Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Plein Air Painting at Art New England

Just about a year ago I posted about my experience attending the Art New England program at Bennington College, where I took a Landscape Painting class and oil painted for the first time in almost 30 years.  (You can find that post HERE.)  I've done a little oil painting in the year since then, but I felt like I was floundering without the guidance of the teacher and the peer group.

So this past week, I returned to repeat the experience. We first met with our class and teacher on Sunday evening, and from Monday through Friday, we painted every morning, and every afternoon.  And I actually painted a couple of evenings, too.  We had a final group critique session on Saturday morning, and headed home.  The images in this post are my paintings, and the locations where I painted.  The rest of my class was incredibly talented, and it was very humbling.  But I don't feel that I have permission to share their work with you here on the blog. 
 Just above are two beautiful locations on the campus, and directly below are the paintings that I created at those locations.  Both were done in 3-hour sessions.

 Last year, I photographed a trio of fire hydrants that had me intrigued, and I had it in my head that this year I would paint them  (papa, mama, and baby) at a time of the day that they were casting nice shadows.  So I was very disappointed to discover that the trio was gone, and I went on a search to find another interesting hydrant.  Here's the hydrants from last year.
And here's what I found and painted. There's a partially hidden greenhouse to the right side of the hydrant, and I planned to paint it with the hydrant, but the lighting was wrong, so I chose a different direction.  It's a good thing that the triple hydrants were gone, because I absolutely NEVER could have painted three of them in three hours!  The structure and therefore the drawing is way too complex. 
 Here's the not-so-finished painting.  I still plan to go back into it.  I want to bring up the highlights  on the hydrant, and add some depth to the negative space. 

Here's another 3-hour painting done on the campus. 

We spent a day and a half a the Park McCullough Historic House and the beautiful grounds.  I wanted to paint in the garden, but when we got there is was very hot and I decided to find a place with some shade to set up my easel.  I saw these horses in a field on a hill (the photo is zoomed in), and decided they'd be fun to paint. 
 The horses were in the lower right of the scene as I was painting it below. 
 But evidently nobody told them to stay still.  So here's the painting as it looks right now.  I think I'd still like to make some changes.  But no horses....

The next day I found a lovely little lily pond in the garden, and nestled in to paint.  It was more complex than I'd expected, so instead of doing a different painting in the afternoon, I worked on the same painting all day.  Here's the location where I was set up. 
While I was working, I was entertained by a croaking bullfrog.  After a while, he sat on a rock by the pond and posed for photos.  He's definitely a prince! 
 I was also visited by this lovely Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  What a beauty!  My finished painting is at the very top of this post.  Well, I'm saying that it is 'finished' for now.  I still would like to do some corrections.  And maybe add the frog on the rock?

I also painted a couple of evenings.  Both paintings were done fast, in rapidly changing light, and both will be getting some edits from me in the coming weeks. 

My biggest challenge of the week was the last painting I did. I went back to the hidden greenhouse that was near the fire hydrant and set up my easel.  I worked on the painting for a full day, standing at the easel in the hot sun.  
 Here's the painting as it looks right now.  I'd love to drive back to Bennington in the coming week, to keep working on it. I want to bring some detail into the foreground, and also do some more work on the greenhouse. 

 The last morning, we had sort of a critique session.  
Here's four of my pieces on the wall.

It was a super-productive week, and I'm inspired to do more painting, but unfortunately my aging body has not been cooperative.  I think standing all day painting the greenhouse on a hot sunny day really did me in.  I'm already struggling with spinal degeneration, and having injections for pain management, but since I've been home I've been in tough shape.   I'm hoping to resolve it in the coming weeks, because I despise having to curtail my activities because of my spine! 


  1. I love your paintings!
    I too am a retired art teacher (32 years) and went to Bennington summer school many years ago. What a great place!
    You have inspired me Phyl.
    Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you. I'm pretty much committed to going back each summer, to take the time to be an artist without the distractions of every day life!

  2. hope you feel better, i like your paintings.

  3. What a great experience (except for have ng to deal with your spine now)! My sister-in- law struggles with spine issues, too -- no fun. I am amazed at the number of paintings you did in just one week!!! I find it hard to paint with greens - so many variations. Yours look great!

    1. Christie, I agree, green is a challenge. I spent most of the week working with limited color palettes and not opening a tube of green at all, but instead simply mixing with variations of primaries.