Monday, March 16, 2015

Ultimate Winter Plein Air Painting Spot - the Mount Washington Hotel

The truly incredible Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Spent the weekend in the snow with painting buddy Todd Bonita.

Volpe posing for a feature in "Plein Air Pin-Ups"
After it started snowing late on our first day, we resolved to chase the kind of atmosphere that American Impressionist Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) captured in Cornish, NH paintings such as "The White Veil" and "The Enveloping Mantle."

Willard Metcalf, The White Veil (1909)

They aren't Metty's strongest paintings (I think the ones in full sunlight have more life and better design), but the grays convince with subtle shifts in value and warm and cool tonalities.

Willard Metcalf, The Enveloping Mantle (1920)
We spent two days in the snow, sometimes sinking hip deep in drifts along riverbanks and rocky, wooded hills ......

Todd B. in action.

River painting underway.
I look cold for a reason.

The Intervale, 6x8 oil sketch.
.... before we realized how easy this could have been, perched on the sheltering veranda of the Mount Washington Hotel.

Todd B. painting "the veil" in relative comfort.
The Mount Washington, built in 1902, has been updated to the point of surpassing its original turn-of-the-century-grand-hotel glory. It's now a splendid, world-class resort and spa with six or so floors, several swimming pools including indoor and outdoor (heated and lit up at night, with a little perpetually burning bonfire to stop at and warm up en route), movie theater, numerous ball rooms, restaurants, etc. etc., even its own post office.

They love winter here. Besides downhill and cross-country skiing, they do sled dog rides - one ripped across the road as we drove up to the hotel. Click here for the proof (link's not working great, sorry).

Lobby of the Mount Washington

The building has an enormous wrap-around veranda where nothing's stopping one from setting up an easel and painting any number of gorgeous views while stepping inside for refreshments between paintings.

Snowy peak, 5" x 7" from the hotel porch.

Study of hills from the hotel porch.

It's the perfect base camp for a workshop, too. However, at about $350 a night, folks living on an artist's "salary" might want to do what we did and paint here for the day while sleeping nearby in more modest accommodations. Bonus: there's a 24-hour shuttle that will take you just about anywhere you need to go, too.

Abstract snowy mountainside, also from the porch.
Todd and I are looking into setting up a team-taught workshop here in 2016. It's just too perfect and fun not to at least try to get a group of crazy painters up here with us.

A stranger in paradise.
For those who prefer the sun-kissed beach to the sleet-bitten rock, there are still one or two slots left in our Ogunquit, Maine "Art of Seeing" workshop in September, but don't delay as it's almost filled and it's only March.

In the meantime, there's still plenty of room in my spring White Mountain workshop as Crawford Notch Artist-in-Residence at the AMC Highland Center lodge. That plein air workshop will run May 3-6, 2015. Check here for more info on that.

Willard Leroy Metcalf keeping it real.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Plein Air Ho!

This week, as I did last week, I joined a posse of intrepid painters who tramped out to paint among the snowy hills and fields of Battis Farm on an outing in Amesbury, Mass.

From left: Donald Jurney, Jane Coder, and Tom Bailey on "the outing." Don't be fooled - it was balmy out there! They're only pretending to be cold.

Donald Jurney has been sounding the horn via Facebook, rousing from hibernation anyone who wants to come and move some paint around and have a few laughs. Painting can be a lonely road - it's nice to have camaraderie on the way. I caught up with some old friends, did a one-hour sketch, and headed back to the studio.

My plein air sketch of Battis Farm (that's the farm at the base of the hill on the far right)
Last week we painted at Maudslay State Park in Newbury, Mass. Donald brought something he had someone make for him that he was calling "The Hibbard Mitten." It's sort of like a wool sock without a heel, or else a mitten without a thumb... you stick the paintbrush right through the loosely knitted fabric.

The Hibbard Mitten(TM)
I saw immediately that it was "my color" and ended up winning it in a rock-paper-scissors contest with Tom Bailey. Works great! It's named for Aldro Hibbard, dauntless snow-painter of New England winters past.

Hibbard sporting "The Hibbard Mitten" (TM)

Today I didn't need the mitten - it was over 50 in the sun, and I painted without a jacket. What a treat, considering I've been painting outdoors every month of 2015, including the bitter weeks and months of one of the worst winters on record here. It wasn't by design - I just got very stir crazy in the studio.

I was looking for ways to converge abstraction and representation and spent almost every day for a week making 8"x8" studies of the surface of a frozen pond (Flint's Pond in Hollis, NH). It was surely below zero with the wind on at least one of those days. Shortly after, I became interested in painting larger abstract interpretations of mountains full of snow and ice, which I'm still doing in my studio.

Black Mountain 18" x 18" (detail)

Doing so sent me back outside though, so I found myself in the White Mountains painting plein air in the snow again. I'm heading up to spend this weekend painting the Whites in Jackson, NH too.

White Mountains, plein air, February 2015

Painting from life - and if you're a landscape painter, that means plein air - I think is essential for developing a vocabulary of space, color, light, and expression. But to what extent should that mean painting "what you see?"

Driving over, I was mulling over a conversation that began in my abstraction class, which I teach at the Arts League of Lowell, over the whys and wherefores of abstraction in representational painting. We came to no conclusions, of course, but it did occur to me that in plein air painting the degree of realism or abstraction hardly matters in the end, although either can derail the mission - as in all my work, my mission (all too easily lost sight of) is to express a strongly felt sensation of human reality.

And if the goal is to render something beautiful and moving, does the degree of detail really matter? Depends on what's being expressed, I guess. It's about an embodiment of the painter's "vision" though, right? What else really matters?

Coming this May

Join me for three days painting in the heart of the White Mountains May 3-6, 2015. I will be conducting this workshop in the capacity of the official Artist in Residence of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center in Crawford Notch. The workshop will kick off with an evening presentation on White Mountain painting past and present, providing context and inspiration. We will paint for the next three days, updating the tradition of White Mountain painting with a contemporary perspective. For more info or to sign yourself up, check out this page on the AMC's Highland Center site.