It has been about three weeks since I attended a workshop in Nashville with Carole Gray-Weihman. I have been holding off writing this post in attempts to further wrap my mind around everything that I learned, but I haven’t yet had that ‘A ha!’ moment where everything comes full circle so I guess I’ll go ahead and give it my best shot!
Carole’s method of painting is so different from anything I have learned before. First off, this was my first formal instruction of plein air painting. I typically paint indoors from a reference photo or from a still life, so adapting to painting outdoors (wind, rain, changing light etc…) was a learning curve in itself. Secondly, Carole is a colorist who studied in the Hawthorne-Hensche Principle. She sees and paints color differently than anyone I have ever studied under. She completely blew me (and all the other workshop attendees!!) away with her color choices and the way she pushes the local color one way or the other. That was the biggest challenge to deal with. Lastly, she paints primarily with a palette knife. This was not as foreign to me as the plein air and color palette, but still a difference in my typical method of painting with a brush.
The workshop lasted for three days (Thursday-Saturday) and kicked off with a pre-workshop demo on Tuesday night at Studio 521 in Berryhill. Boy am I glad I was able to go to the demo. It gave me a taste of what I was in for during the workshop and a little bit of time to mentally prepare, otherwise I would have spent all of Thursday in complete shock and awe.
We spent all three days painting outdoors – the first two days on the gorgeously landscaped lawns of some very generous folks who opened their yards and homes to us and Saturday at Iroquois Steeplechase in Percy Warner Park. Painting outdoors is a gamble (especially in Tennessee!) and we were plagued with some unfortunate weather – pop up rain and thunder showers on Thursday and Friday accompanied by some nearly intolerable winds on Saturday. However, we all made the best of it and painted through the less than favorable conditions.
Carole painted a demo and discussed methodology in the morning of Day One. In the afternoon, we finally had our chance to give it a go. It was a bit daunting to try to apply everything I had just learned – composition, color & palette knife, oh my!
My landscape reference & painting from Day One:
Even I can admit that my painting from Day One is a bit out there… Carole told me, “Man, you’re bold!” I’ll take that as a compliment…I think.
I came back on Day Two refreshed, re-energized and ready to learn more. Carole began with a demo (see photos above) and then sent us out into the yard to paint our hearts out. Luckily it rained very lightly, no sudden down pours sent us running for cover!
My landscape reference & painting from Day Two:
I reigned my crazy colors in a bit for this painting session and was able to focus more on composition and use of warm/cool colors to set certain elements back or bring them to the foreground.
On Day Three we painted at Iroquois Steeple Chase atop a hill overlooking the track. It was incredibly windy and storm clouds loomed in the distance. Luckily, the rain held off until the last hour of the workshop but the wind was very strong and sent a few people home early. After Carole’s morning demo, we each set up alongside the road and tried to situate ourselves in such a way as to be blocked from the wind. There was no refuge to be had and after a minor personal melt down (wiped my canvas clean to start over), I moved my gear behind my car and stood under the open hatch. This didn’t provide much shelter from the wind but it at least got my canvas and palette out of the direct sunlight.
The last day of a workshop is always bitter-sweet. I try to soak up every last bit of information I can from the instructor and have high hopes of creating a masterpiece. Third time’s a charm, right? I constantly have to remind myself workshops are not the place to create finished pieces of art but a time to experiment with a new style and let myself make mistakes so the teacher can critique my work and help me learn why I make certain mistakes.
My landscape reference & painting from Day Three:
I think I made progress from the previous days’ work in my final painting. Carole critiqued my work in the late afternoon rain – what a trooper! – and I still haven’t gone back to fix the errors she pointed out. I am pondering just leaving it to be a learning tool so I can remember the mistakes I made.
This workshop revolutionized the way I think about art, my methodology, my style. There is so much to learn about composition and color. It is one thing to look at something and be able to represent it with paint, but it is truly a gift and talent to be able to guide the viewer through your painting and to make them feel what you felt when you were painting. To learn more about this, I have purchased several books on composition and color as well as Robert Henri’s ‘The Art Spirit,’ and Charles Hawthorne’s ‘Hawthorne on Painting.’ I am learning a lot from these books and can’t wait to put their principles into practice.
I haven’t had much time to paint recreationally since completing Carole’s workshop because I have been spending a lot of my art time working on color charts! This was a recommendation from Carole as a way to really understand color and I can attest it is such a great learning and reference tool! I plan to do a full blog post once they’re complete so stay tuned.
In closing, a brief list of painting pointers from Carole:
- Use thumbnail sketches to work out composition & value structure.
- If you have the correct value, you’re off to a good start even if your color is wrong.
- Establish darks first.
- Work all over, don’t work remotely.
- Don’t paint things you don’t understand, it will be evident in your painting.
- Paint intellectually, if you can’t see it, paint what you know.
- It’s like icing a cake, be sloppy with [the paint], get it on there.
- If you’re spending too much time in one area, scrape it and try again. You want to withhold the integrity of that first brush stroke that was so beautiful.