Sunday, August 1, 2010

Simple Gifts

Today I had the great pleasure of spending the day painting outside at Canterbury Shaker Village in central New Hampshire.

After chatting with Maine artist Hanna Phelps, one of about a dozen artists with the NHPleinAir group, I parked my easel nearby on the edge of an old apple orchard and painted to the sound of birdsong and devoted men and women singing Shaker hymns.

My guiding principle for this painting was to concentrate on getting the value relationships right, that is, the degrees of the lights and the shadows relative to each other. Once that was done, I could think about playing colors off of each other (in particular the violet shadows and the complementary yellow highlights in the grass).

I was reminded while talking to Mary Byrom later that it's a good idea to allow either cool or warm colors to predominate (2/3 cool and 1/3 warm or vice verse). I'm not sure whether that happened or not (I certainly wasn't thinking about it), but I do like the way the cool sky and warm ground and foliage are sort of interlocked by the cool lavenders of the little shed on one side and the warm yellow-greens of the tree foliage projecting into the sky on the other.

I really wanted the eye to be drawn in and held, so I composed the background, clouds, foliage, and even the leaning fenceposts in the right foreground (which "point" you back to the main subject) in such a way that the design continually leads the eye back toward the heart of the painting.

This was one of the most delightful paint-outs I've ever been part of. Just think: this quiet rural New Hampshire community has hardly changed at all since the Shakers began fashioning household furniture and utensils and making maple syrup here in 1783. The land is rich with contours, venerable old-world trees, stone walls, and historic buildings (about half a dozen dating from the late 1700s, the rest from the nineteenth century).

Canterbury is one of the oldest, most typical, and best preserved Shaker villages in the country. The orchard I was painting in was laid out in its present form just over 100 years ago.


  1. Glad I got a chance to see your painting! And I think you managed to do the 2/3 warm to 1/3 cool nicely.

  2. So I got up this morning and it's casual Friday and I pick out a cranberry shirt and brown shorts thinking they're kind of in the same hue zone without being too matchy matchy. Then I realize I am about to be 50 percent cool and 50 percent warm, and that isn't going to work per the formulae I read about on the CV blog! So I put on white shorts and I'm all squared away now.

  3. Nice painting Chris, this is really beautiful and moody.