Painting at Deer Lake State Park

August 5, 2015 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil painting of the view of the dunescape from the boardwalk at Deer Lake State Park in Walton County, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Uncertain whether it would rain or not, I deployed my sun umbrella when I set up to paint with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly outing, this week at Deer Lake State Park. The beach breeze promptly blew it over and inside-out despite my wraps of rope around the stem. I was a little craftier in in how I tied it down the second time. I had to head it into the wind a little, which meant it initially was useless but 45 minutes later, it shaded my palette and canvas perfectly. And it never rained while we painted.

Deer Lake State Park contains beautiful, unspoiled, pristine sand dunes. The very long boardwalk is elevated to provide superior views in all directions, protecting the habitat below from feet beating a trail to the beach. Clouds came and went, but that didn’t matter as I blocked in the skyline of dunes and water. However, when I looked for the light and shadow the next time the sun came out, I realized I had forgotten to put my whites on my palette. I looked for them in my collection of tubed paints – nope, not there. Apparently still sitting on my table in my studio. Now what? The other painters were all a good hike away from me, so I decided to paint without borrowing white for as long as I could. I had toned the bottom half of the canvas with beige acrylic before I started, so it wasn’t stark white. The dunes were very white though, where the bare canvas showed in between the painted bushes and grass. I decided that was a good thing. I decided that I might not need white, if I could be disciplined enough to not paint where the white needed to be.

Park visitors walked past me, on their way to the beach, but some stopped to watch. They complimented my work, and some talked to me. I enjoyed that. There are times when I am seriously challenged by my painting, when I might not be in the friendliest of moods, but today’s painting was fun and interesting. Working without white made me a bit nervous, but it also provided an excuse if the painting didn’t turn out good, so I think I may actually have been fairly relaxed.

The group met in the picnic shelter back at the parking lot, for our “soft” critique, and we then packed up and met at a local restaurant for lunch.

Another beautiful painting adventure!

The Practice of Art

July 10, 2015 in Figure Drawing, Landscape, Plein Air

Certain pursuits are referred to as a practice. We think of the practice of law, the practice of medicine, the practice of meditation. I consider my art to be a practice — I practice figure drawing, I practice plein air painting. I think of it as lifelong learning, each painting or drawing a new experience.

I stopped figure drawing a few years ago when the logistics became more difficult, and instead I began plein air painting. Now, when I go to the life drawing sessions my local arts alliance supports, I find my practice a little rusty. But thanks to my friend Melanie Cissone for bringing the local figure drawing opportunities back to life, figure drawing is getting easier again. Bohlert-Massey Interiors in Seacrest Beach, Florida, has been selling my figurative pieces and suddnely I am hard-pressed to re-supply their stock, so I am happy that my practice is paying off.

Below are some recent works from both of my practices. Click on them and use the attached form to message me if you are interested.

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Plein air oil painting of the herons on the bridge at Veteran's Park, Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Plein air oil painting of the "umbrella trees" from the south shore of Western Lake at Grayton Beach State Park

Plein air oil painting of Indian Blanketflower at Grayton Beach State Park

Figure drawing of older child-fashion-model










Morgan Samuel Price Workshop, Apalachicola, March 2015

March 27, 2015 in Landscape, Photography, Plein Air

IMG_0754Last year I took my first workshop in plein air painting. I had been painting weekly with the local plein air group for about 14 months when I took that first workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. But I found each day of this year’s workshop even more challenging than last year. According to Morgan, that is the painter’s life. She says that a plein air painter just keeps finding more and more challenges. The more experienced they get, the harder the challenges they find for themselves. Sigh, I thought this was supposed to get easier!

What an amazing group of artists in this year’s workshop! Lynn Wilson, Carol Drost Lopez, Becky Anderson, Charlotte Hope, Nancy Smith Crombie, Patricia Irish Richter, Brenda Anderson, Sherry Wetherington, Mary Wain-Ellison, Glenda Coleman, Karen Snider, David M. Jones, and I:  thirteen of us. One of the best parts about the workshop was the critique session held each day at the end of the day. We would line up our efforts, even if it was just a few brushstrokes, and Morgan would discuss each and every painting, directing her comments to that artist but for the benefit of us all. This was addition to her amazing morning teaching and demo sessions, and our afternoon practicing painting en plein air, all making for a superb workshop for beginner and advanced painter alike. Blessed with infinite patience and superb focus, Morgan is able to work despite the constant distractions of the excited artists milling and buzzing around her, cameras clicking next to her ear. Below are a few shots of her working. You can click on any of the images to see a larger view.

IMG_0806 2015-0320 MSP demo SGI Preserve
IMG_0864 2015-0318 MSP demo Apalach street scene

OfficeI had confidence to be away from my pool service business. I had worked long hours the weekend before the workshop, to clear my desk, plus I have a fantastic crew in the field and a wonderful office staff. On Wednesday my staff decided to show me what was happening there in the office, with a series of photos that even Tamra’s store helpers (her two dogs) had a part in.  Here’s the worst one, Tamra Thomas, Margaret Bush, and Brenda Osborne. Clearly they do not have enough work to do.

The city and area around Apalachicola is such a scenic place, with the historic buildings, working waterfront with shrimp boats galore, oystermen, grottos and lagoons — it is heaven for painters.  The home of Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, you often can find an artist or photographer at work.

Below are some of my works from the workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. Daily critiques were at a set time. Work had to be halted then if we wanted to hear what Morgan had to say about our progress. Click the photo for a larger image.

2015-0316 Scrub Pine on St. George Island 2015-0317 Pond near Scipio Creek Marina 2015-0318Apalachicola
2015-0319 St. George Island Plantation 2015-0320 Pond on SGI Preserve 2015-0320 Thistle Bloom

On the last day I was captivated by a thistle in bloom, so after I finished my landscape, I captured the pink of the flower by using a tint of color I had not ever used before, quinacridone magenta, which turned out to be perfect for painting thistles and I believe also should make painting azaleas easy. I am finding I generally prefer to mix my colors instead of using specialty pre-mixed tubes, but in this case I was very pleased with the chroma.

I shot the photo below using my iPhone.

2015-0317 Lady Louise photo

Contact me if you are interested in purchasing work from this page or any of my online galleries.

See the next post for the weekly paintings done just before and after this workshop.


Inspiration from the Creative Efforts of Others

February 28, 2015 in Landscape, Other Art

Art does not come out of the void. At a minimum, it interprets experience and renders a modicum of the artist’s truth, and at its best, it takes the artist’s inner and outer experience, undergoes experiments in alchemy in the boiler room of the artist’s soul, and then spawns something seemingly completely original. Yet to the artist, it merely is another step in the process of expressing herself or himself.  Most of the artists I know are amazingly humble in that regard. They see their work as an experience, a process; while those viewing the final piece, the artwork, see the magical release.

By mingling with other artists, seeing their work, talking with them, listening to their excitement, their struggles, observing their unbelievable courage and their ability to withstand misunderstanding and rejection along with acceptance and recognition, I see mirrors of myself, and my creative spirit is magnified.

Facebook has been a tremendous boon for me, creatively.  Through this phenomenon of social media, I have been able to see the work of my artist-friends and acquaintances, as well as that of other professional artists through the various groups I belong to, and then there are the very giving spirits who appreciate good art so much they share a veritable museum of found art on their Facebook pages, people like my friend the amazing Susan Lucas, who shares a wealth of creativity by others.

I volunteer for one such community, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA). I serve on the A+Art Committee, whose mission is to showcase the work of CAA member artists. I had the privilege of being the show coordinator for Creative Textures, a current exhibit of the work of 11 artists known for the textural quality of the work, featuring the sculpted acrylics of Justin Gaffrey, colorful weavings by Margaret Rogers, art quilts and stitchery by Mary Zahner and Becky Brodersen, bold ceramic masks by Didon Comer, dyed silks and beaded fabric by Gabrielle Bullard, the haunting art dolls of Ann Welch, expressive tile work by Sherry McCall, exquisite glass and shell collages by Mary Hong (South Walton Artist of the Year 2014), wearable beadweaving by Emilie Pritchard, and unique art basketry by Carol Dickson.

Last month my own work was selected for the promotional materials for another one of our shows, Express Yourself, used on the posters, the program, and the custom wine labels.  Bottles of the show label were auctioned.  Photos are on the A+Art Facebook page, January 20 and 21, 2015. I’ve posted a few below. I believe Melissa Mercer Brown, 2014 Chair of A+Art, and Suzanne LeLoup-West, Express Yourself show coordinator, shot most of the photos, if not all. Music and song, poetry, theater, dance, all of the arts enrich the soul, and for artists, provide further inspiration, motivation, and a “refilling of the well”. Electronically we have the ability to bring all things “culture” into our living spaces and our studios.  But of course there is nothing quite like mingling in person, in the actual energy of creative people, attending events, or even just getting together in small groups or one-on-one.  We seem to energize from our contact with each other.  There is so much value in community.

1 Express Yourself table Express Yourself wine label Express Yourself Poster and original Express Yourself entrance pic Express Yourself photo by Melissa Brown

Eagle, by Leslie Kolovich, pastel on sanded paper. Use Contact Form to request purchase information.

Recently I’ve been watching my good friend Leslie Kolovich develop Leslie Kolovich Live, her own internet radio/tv broadcast featuring “music, art, the environment, and purposeful living”, and especially observing her interaction with the musicians, and I see the very same creative energy exchange I’ve been writing about here. Likewise with my friend Melanie Cissone, organizing life drawing sessions for fellow figure-drawing artists, intent on improving her own skill and expression, but benefitting other artists at the same time. Community with other artists provides support and opportunity, infinitely energizing. Leslie comes to my art studio every week or so, a community I don’t invite into my personal creative space unless the energy is very, very simpatico, which it is, with her. This week I finished the painting I posted in my last blog, while Leslie produced an amazing pastel of an eagle, inspired by a pair of nesting bald eagles we saw when our paddle-group paddled the bay near my house last weekend (Leslie’s painting at right).

Growth Mindset in Plein Air Painting

October 27, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Plein air oil painting of mist rising from Beaver Lake at Oak Mountain State ParkBecause there are so many variables in n plein air painting, each painting presents a unique set of challenges, even if I am painting the same place at the same time of day. Adding a complication, I myself am different, and I am part of the process. “Wherever you go, there you are.” So I make no attempt to repaint the same scene in exactly the same way.

I read a blog about a concept called “growth mindset”. Apparently “researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.” (Salman Khan)

The point was that we learn and grow during the struggles.  I certainly know this to be true within the patterns and rhythms of my life, and recently I have been coming to this conclusion about my approach to my art. Perhaps it is the stage of of growth as an artist, or perhaps it will always be this way, that I have to learn anew how to paint, during each painting.  Of course, I become better at my craft, but each painting presents new compositional challenges, new color challenges, and often, new lighting or atmospheric challenges, not to mention of course, new imagery in new scenery. Usually, I paint something I have never painted before.  During the process of the painting I must learn how to paint whatever it is that I am painting. I try to capture the light.

Last Saturday, my challenge was to paint the mist rising off the surface of a lake at sun-up. Many many years ago I remember creating a passable mist by scumbling white gauche on a watercolor painting, but I had no idea how to paint mist in oils. I ended up using a light gray mixture of paint where I wanted the mist, and feathering it as best as I could without mixing much into the colors above and below. This seems like a technique I should practice, since I probably will want to create this sort of atmosphere from time to time. Above right is my 5×7 plein air effort.

Below are paintings from the last two weeks — two from my best friend’s balcony looking out over Camp Creek Lake, and the other a painting of one of the gigantic live oaks at Eden Gardens State Park.

Oil painting of the marsh and trees of Camp Creek Lake, with short cypress turning orange in the fall Oil painting of the marsh and trees at the edge of Camp Creek Lake, with purple shadows Oil painting of large live oak and light/shadow patterns on the grass underneath, at Eden Gardens State Park


Commissions Under Pressure – Plein Air at Events

October 18, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

May, 2014

Those who follow my blog know that I contract to paint plein air at wedding receptions at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet where my plein air paintings are shown.  I blogged about it in May, “Commissioned Works en Plein Air.” So you might think it would become old hat, painting the same setting.  But the colors are different, the sounds change, the plants change, the people are different, and most of all, the light changes, so the challenges are always there, and I must always grow as a result. If the scene feels too familiar, all I need to do is move my easel a little, or turn my head, for a new point of view. I am not so fast as to actually paint the couple on site — instead I paint the surroundings in the hour before the event, and then I take photos and sketch a gesture of their entrance or first dance or whatever scene they choose, and then I may block in the general silhouette of the couple. I complete the painting in the studio. The biggest challenge, in commissioned work, of course is pleasing the client, and that includes working with color choices that compliment or repeat the design colors of the event, and sometimes it includes altering my painting style to lean towards a particular style the client likes.

Oil painting of the bridge and garden at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, plein air preparation for painting a wedding couple's first dance

Plan A, with afternoon light

My most recent contract was a month ago, in September.  I had gotten the time wrong, thinking the newly wedded couple would be making their entrance around 5:30 instead of 7:30, so I was painting the entire back scene with late afternoon light in preparation for adding the couple when they made their entrance. I had planned to catch the couple coming across the bridge over the coy pond, placing them slightly right of center, against the spray of the green bamboo like plant that grows behind the bridge.

When the couple made their entrance at 7:30, my entire painting was wrong — the garden was now illuminated by string lights instead of afternoon sunlight. Plan B:  Start a second painting!!!  I was only minimally prepared for a nocturne, but I needed to get my painter’s sense of the location, the sounds, the vibrancy of the lights, the energy of the party. By painter’s sense, I mean that visceral impression of myself being a participant in the scene and not just an observer. I needed to be able to recall all of it, not just relying on photo references, which convey only a small part of what I try to project. I set up my little lights, one on my palette and one on my painting, and knocked out a study of the light-wrapped trees and the dance patio to help me do the job right when I got back to the studio.

2014-0920 Grayt Grounds Nocturne Study

Plan B, nocturne study

The challenges of painting a nocturne successfully include first of all, believable colors. My palette from the afternoon painting was not the colors I would have chosen if I had planned a nocturne, but I was under the gun to capture the light-wrapped trees and the energy of the gardens so I used my afternoon palette.  I don’t judge the resulting study — it has so much background energy, it looks like the place is on fire — it was perfect for reminding me of some of the feeling I needed to capture, even though I needed to figure out how to paint the light-wrapped trees better.

A little about composition… When I teach, I suggest that my students stick to the safer “rule of thirds” for the focal point, which means putting the focus of the painting on one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical tri-sections of the painting. By putting the couple smack in the middle of the painting, I was challenged to direct the viewer’s eye. I didn’t want the eye to go straight to the center and just stay there.  I wanted the eye to circle the painting, returning again and again to center, to help the viewer look at the painting for a longer period of time. That required more attention to the crowd than I was visualizing at the actual event, and especially more attention to the figures at the outside edges, who are intended to help the eye circle, and by their body position also help redirect the attention back to center. The scene is dramatized by the blue and red spotlights that were on the couple during their First Dance.

By writing this, I am reminded how many decisions go into making a painting. When painting plein air, those decisions are made on the fly; they are more considered in the studio. To arrange for me to paint plein air at your event, contact Cheri Peebles at Grayt Grounds:

Oil painting of couple dancing outdoors at Grayt Grounds in wedding reception - final piece


Finding the Light in Plein Air Painting

October 1, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

Oil painting of th early fall colors reflected in Beaver Lake, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama

When I go outside to paint, I am looking for the light and I am anticipating where it will be in 2 hours when I will be finishing the painting. I say I am looking for it, but truthfully, it catches my eye.  The more I paint, the more the light catches my eye.  The drive home from Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday was heaven, the light was so brilliant.  It was a crisp, clear fall day, with long shadows and the clarity of lower humidity. Autumn colors were just beginning to show. It’s interesting that the drive up to Birmingham was so much less remarkable, simply because it was a gray day, a 3 on my scale of days worth painting.  But yesterday was a 10!  Part of the visual ecstasy was due to having been painting in the morning.  Anytime I paint plein air, my awareness and my enjoyment of all things visual increases exponentially.

The morning broke gently in Oak Mountain State Park, slight pinks in the mist over the Beaver Lake, glowing through the filter of the screen roof of my tent. There had been almost no chance of rain, so I had slept there without a rainfly.  I left my cozy lightweight sleeping bag and walked down to the water’s edge, but my morning meditation was cut short by the realization that the trees were going to be sparkling bright in a few minutes, and the lake would provide glassy reflections. I went back to the campsite and set up to paint. My campmate, Leslie, took her oil pastels some 100 yards away to a picnic table, and I was left to watch the light evolve.

I had to resist the temptation to paint the myriad detail. My intention was to capture the color of the trees on the far side of the lake, and the reflections. I could not indulge in the amazing purples in the foreground tree leaves, or the oranges in the dewy grass — they had to remain muted in order to stay true to what had caught my eye in the beginning. That is the discipline required when plein air painting, because “eye-candy” is everywhere.

Oil pastel painting of early fall colors on the mountain behind Beaver lake at Oak Mountain State Park, by Leslie Kolovich

Leslie Kolovich, Beaver Lake, Study in Oil Pastels

I’ve been helping my friend Leslie Kolovich with technique and media exploration and lately she has been plein air painting.  I have been thrilled with her progress every step of the way.  I didn’t consider her piece finished finished yesterday — we needed to pack up and get back home for her family obligations, but I was very happy with where her piece was going.  We talked about her continuing to layer color and continuing developing the darks, and how to add reflection in the lake water.  I was blown away later last night when she texted me, declaring her painting “Horrible” and “Embarrassingly bad”. I think this is a perfect example of a point that many artists get to, at a certain stage of each work, when they wonder what on earth ever made them think they could be an artist.  At that point, you either quit the piece, or you continue trudging through the process. It’s not a happy time. I remember reading that it took Leonardo daVinci 4 years to paint the Mona Lisa.  The problem is that we are so impatient, we expect instant success.  And Leslie has had instant success on many of her works.  She has amazing talent. But there always is that period of time in creating art when the work looks completely wrong and unsalvageable. It’s the point when you have “Broken the egg in order to make the omelet”. I think that’s what Leslie was seeing last night. But at the same time, I am not a fan of working on a piece that is making me miserable.  So I told her she had a decision to make.  She could continue to work on it, she could scrub the board clean and re-use it, or she could set the painting aside and let it be for a while. I hope she doesn’t kill me for posting her work here.

Oil painting of the deer moss and lichen on a birdhouse in the treesA couple weeks ago I was late getting to my weekly plein air group outing, and nothing immediately appealed to me, knowing I would only have about an hour or so to paint before it would be time to meet and critique, so I went back home and wandered my yard for inspiration. I returned to a birdhouse that had caught my eye a few weeks before, the deer moss and lichen on the roof providing such a great contrast of texture to the aging wood. I am deciding whether I should add a bird back in the bushes, to give it more story.


Completion of Plein Air Paintings in the Studio

July 13, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

I’ve heard of certain art described as being painted “in the style of plein air”, but that description describes nothing, because plein air is not a style.  Some plein air artists paint in a more abstracted style, and some paint very representationally. Plein air painting, by definition, is painting in open air, on-site. It describes an activity as well as the painting produced during that activity. Plein air artists focus on capturing some aspect of the actual fleeting light. Usually the subject and the artist are at the mercy of the elements and the environment, but there are no rules — if the weather or bugs are nasty, the artist might paint from inside his car.  But very little, if any work, is done in the studio. When invitations are given for plein air works to be formally shown, usually the requirement is that most of the painting have been done outdoors, on site, from life, anywhere from 80% of the painting painting en plein air, to the purist’s position of 100% painted on site.

As for my plein work, occasionally I will correct a shape or add a detail in the studio, but usually my plein air paintings are fully completed outdoors, on site. Like many plein air artists, I have many plein air paintings stacked in my studio that for one reason or another, I consider unfinished, or with which I feel less than satisfied as far as the painting representing my impression of the scene and setting.  Some have compositional problems, because in addition to the value patterns showing the play of light, there are so many design elements to consider – line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, as well as the compositional principles of balance, rhythm, and harmony.

So this week when I was chased back indoors by some biting yellow flies, I worked in the studio, making a few corrections to a plein air painting I had produced in a Laurel Daniel workshop this spring. I removed a pesky, distracting “V”, made the greens more yellow and less green, and I added a little more light in the background, and a red boat shape.  The composition is more effective now, and more clearly represents my impression of the morning view, except for the boat of course, which simply adds interest.

2014-0425 Muted Perspective, Unfinished

As initially painted en plein air, the view from Gascoigne Bluff, St. Simons Island, Georgia

Oil painting of Gascoigne Bay looking through the trees and brush

Completed painting of the view from Gascoigne Bluff, St. Simons Island, Georgia


Commissioned Works En Plein Air

June 6, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

I recently completed two commissioned assignments in which specific subjects were requested.  In the first case, a specific style also was requested.  Fortunately for me, the stylistic samples I was given, ranged from the light and airy scenes of the French Impressionists to a piece of “outsider art” which had that sort of purely expressive sense of being painted by an artist who has not had formal training.  I was confident I could paint within that wide of a range!

The location of the first commissioned piece was in the gardens at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, at a wedding reception, and my job was to paint the bride and groom’s first dance.  When I arrived to get the background started, the Forrest Williams band was setting up, and the people from Grayton Beach Catering were bustling about.  My background was blocked in when the first guests arrived, and I was enjoying the band singing “She’s as Sweet as Tupelo Honey”.  By the time the guests started arriving, my 10×8 painting was well underway, and a few of the guests would wander over and watch as I worked.  I let one of the children put some color on the bottom part.  When the bride and groom were announced and made their entrance onto the dance floor, I put down my brush and picked up my sketchpad and my camera.  After the dance, I laid in the figures on my nearly finished background and then finished the details in the studio using my sketch and my photos for reference.  Afterwards, I decided to paint another painting in the studio, making effort to paint in a more “Impressionist” style, with layers of short, patterned brushstrokes loaded with color, which was great fun.  (See also my later blog “Commissions under Pressure – Plein Air at Events”.)

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air sketch

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air painting, details in studio

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style

Studio painting

For mobile viewing

Sketch of couple dancing outdoors

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Painted en Plein Air

Plein air

Oil Painting of Couple Dancing Outdoors by Bridge, Impressionist Style



The second commission was for Channing Gardner, a real estate agent, for a gift for his client.  My task was to paint the Seagrove Beach property as it was when it was purchased, before anything was built on it.  It took me two mornings to complete it, because of the changing light and the heat.  I opted for a wider format, painting it 12×24, which allowed me to include more of the coastal development to contrast with the empty lot.

Oil painting of central Seagrove Beach westward towards Seaside, showing recently purchased empty lot

June is my busiest time of year in my day job, managing my pool service business, so I was not able to join the local plein air painters yet this summer until things lightened up this week.  We met near the pond at Mystic Port, a small collection of shops and restaurants north of Grayton Beach, Florida.  I was intrigued by the fountain, but never having painted one, I gladly accepted the suggestion of a more experienced artist, to put the splash on the surface of the water and then take a palette knife and drag upwards.  I am happy with the results — I can hearing the water falling.  Other works by our group on that day can be found on our Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters Facebook page,

Oil painting of the fountain splashing at Mystic Port, Grayton Beach, FL

Learning to See Better through Plein Air Painting

May 20, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air

2014-0508 Thumbnail Sketch, Boat in Drydock2014-0513 Value Sketch, Fishing BoatsDon Demers, one of my workshop instructors last week, tongue in cheek, said “Plein air painting creates bad drivers.”  He explained the hazard, that as a practicing plein air painter, one could be driving along and become mesmerized, staring at the shape or color of something, perhaps even something so interesting as the shadow of an underpass.  We all laughed of course, but I recognize the truth of his statement.  After practicing plein air painting for 8 days, I can’t look anywhere now without noticing wonderful value contrasts, delicious color intensities, and patterns of light leading my eye through compositions waiting to be painted.

The first workshop I attended was by invitation.  Twelve painters were selected to be in the “pilot” course for the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy.  Master plein air artist Don Demers is designing the curriculum, and Joe Taylor of the Apalachicola School of Art is planning the logistics.  Together they will come up with a course to be offered as professional development for the advanced plein air painter.  Don spent a good bit of time talking with each of us, as well as offering constructive tips with our paintings.  Of most practical value to me was his suggestion to set intention before starting a painting, and then to stick to that intention.  He suggested we draw “thumbnail sketches” of our intended paintings first, studying the value relationships and evaluating whether the composition would work as a whole, before we spent 3 hours painting it.  Some of my sketches progressed into paintings, some were mere studies of shapes or ideas discarded as perhaps too complicated or logistically difficult (the one above left required me to stand in an ant pile; the one above right was too complicated for my limited knowledge of fishing boats).

I learned something about photography after doing one such value study, and that is that my iPhone camera does not see the light the way I do.  In fact my camera hardly picked up the power of the light at all.  Here’s a comparison:

2014-0509 Value Sketch, Docked Sailboat iPhoto of Sailboat I Sketched

I completed two paintings and a couple of studies in the Plein Air Academy workshop.  Integrating what I am learning is always difficult — there has to be a period of intense, grinding focus, because painting is for the most part so visceral, and newly learned information so very intellectual.  I found myself completely exhausted by the end of the first several days.  I must have had every muscle in my body tensed as I tried to incorporate what I was learning.  I literally came home, ate supper, and went straight to bed, for the first 3 days.

Here are a few of my paintings from the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy workshop.

2014-0511 Typical page of Notes

Typical page of notes

.2014-0506 Port St. Joe Marina.2014-0508 Mooring Buoy.


2014-0507 Value Sketch, Marsh.2014-0507 Color sketch for Marsh.2014-0507 Marsh


Over the next few days I attended the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event workshop with Greg LaRock and Ken Dewaard.  I wish I could remember everything they said.  It was fun to watch the different approaches of two accomplished artists.  Both were very strong on compositional tips.  LaRock often mentioned ways to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting, and Dewaard pointed out subtle color changes to look for, like the change in the tint of shadows depending on how much of the sky color they might be acquiring, or how much of the color of the ground.  Hopefully I absorbed a lot of it, even though I can’t recite it.  Below are the paintings I produced during their workshop.  In the first one, my challenge was to make the pile of rubble, mostly chunks of concrete, look interesting, like a rocky shoreline.  The paintings of the boats  and of the shirts for sale both challenged me to simplify.

2014-0511 Value Sketch, Rocky Shoreline 2014-0511 Port St. Joe Rock-Lined Harbor 2014-0512 Carrabelle Launch


2014-0513 Value Sketch, Shirts For Sale 2014-0513 T-Shirts for Sale, Apalachicola

I actually had energy to paint a few small studies outside of class, the last several days, below.  Apologies for shooting the photos slightly crooked!

2014-05 Morning Light, Two-Mile Channel Oil painting of evening light on Two-Mile Channel, Apalachicola, FL Oil painting of full moon rising over Two-Mile Channel, Apalachicola, FL

NOTE: light added to 2nd painting above, at

And now back to my day-job!  But the shadows of those underpasses are starting to look mighty interesting!!