Lisa Mitchell's blog is an invitation to share in the adventure of being an artist. Lisa will blog about working and playing in and out of the studio.
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Lisa Mitchell's blog is an invitation to share in the adventure of being an artist. Lisa will blog about working and playing in and out of the studio.

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This is my chronological journey as an artist. There are usually several things going on at any one time. Presently, I work in two mediums, soft pastel and oil. I work in my studio, outdoors on location and also paint models with a group of other artists at a nearby studio. I try to stay active in all of these areas so that I can learn and grow as an artist. I'm not committed to painting only one type of subject. I feel there is much to gain from an ongoing exploration of different forms in nature.

Some of the outcomes are successful and some, well, not so much. The business of drawing and painting is hard work with many ups and downs along the way. It's my passion and for me, a journey worth taking!

Color Temperature: When warm recedes and cool comes forward

  Original painting (cool background)  Changes made (warm background)


I painted the landscape above with the intention of creating a deep interior within this woodland scene. After it was completed and had been sitting around in my studio for awhile I discovered there was something really bothering me about this painting. The top half of the painting didn't seem to jive with the lower half and I hadn't conveyed a sense of depth. What was it? I used cool greens and blues to suggest distant trees but it felt very busy and unappealing. While spending some time painting on location in a similar environment I noticed there were a lot of rich warm darks in the areas where light could not penetrate. After returning to the studio I placed the painting on the easel and painted warm dark greens and browns into the background area of the piece. This felt so much better to me and the background became instantly connected to the warm darks shapes under the foreground rocks. I added some blue ambient light alongside the top of the foreground tree which helped to move it forward. I am fascinated with the temperature relationships of color and I'm learning how to use them to create illusions of space. There is no better teacher than being outdoors and making these types of observations.

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Good Times at Swallow Falls

I returned last week feeling rejuvenated after spending four days within the borders of the Swallow Falls State Park in Western Maryland. All of the students in my Exploring Pastels went along on this plein air expedition. For some, it was their first time painting on an extended plein air outing. We ventured into the great Hemlock forest and found a location along the river bank by Tulliver falls, (the smallest waterfall). The only sound was the steady rushing of the water. There are few things I find more self-nurturing then spending time in nature. I am constantly reminded of how important it is to look up from myself and appreciate all that is before me. Surrounded by some dear friends and fellow artisans I enjoyed the days, painting, documenting and now remembering through my work how special the time had been. For me, painting on location is not about always trying to create that perfect painting worthy of a frame but to explore what is there before me, learning about light on form, color temperatures, atmosphere, textural surfaces to name a few.. What I take away from the experience is so much more.
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Artists Favorite Places

Natural Forces, pastel, 16 X 20
















McBride Gallery, Annapolis

Meet the Artists  
Sunday, June 10, 1 - 4 pm

2:00 Artist Conversation


I'm currently working on some pieces for an upcoming group exhibiton at the McBride Gallery in Annapolis entitled, Artists Favorite Places. I have so many favorite locations but one in particular lies within a beautiful state park located in Western Maryland. Stepping into the Swallow Falls park is like taking a journey through Middle Earth. A Soft green hemlock forest scattered with lichen covered boulders border the great Youghiogheny River. I've visited this river many, many times. I've even fallen off a raft into the raging cold waters of this river during a springtime rafting trip when the waters were running fierce and high. I took a ride through this powerful river and after getting banged up along the way on the rough rocks hidden below, this wild river thankfully delivered me on shore. Since that experience my future trips consisted of hiking along the borders of Swallow Falls and the 63 ft. Muddy Creek Falls where I admired the river from a respectful distance. While camping within the boundaries of this park many years ago I was visted one evening by a skunk! With the utmost care I backed away from the campfire hiding behind my tent giving the furry visitor full access. He nosed around and left peacefully!


My most recent trip revealed a sunlit breakthrough on the water in front of the smaller of the two falls. I was instantly in awe of this natural and forceful beauty. This powerful river was rushing along disinterested in me and everything in it's relentless journey.




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Pastel 100 Competition, 2012


I feel especially honored to have my paintings selected for two Honorable Mention awards in the Pastel Journal 100 Competition. This competition is in its 13th year with 100 pastel painting awards given to pastel artists in several different categories. Over 3,000 enties were received. My landscape painting entiled, "Sweeping the Hill" was  selected by the award judge, Richard McKinley, a super talent in the pastel community. Richard is one of the most generous, knowledgeable and kindhearted instructors out there today. This made receiving the award in the landscape category even more special.

The portrait painting entitled, Dominique, What's on Your Mind?" was selected by a figure painter that I truly admire, Margaret Dyer. It's so nice to receive this recognition.


I just have to say, thank you Pastel Journal, "PJ Rocks"!

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A Kind January

New year..

New focus..

New blog..


A Kind January, oil, 12X16

Winter Plein air

(Now on exhibit at the McBride Gallery, 215 Main Street, Annapolis, MD.)


For me, January is a time of renewal; a time to take a deep breath, exhale slowly and enjoy this quiet time of year. The holiday madness is over, my daughter has submitted all of her college applications, exhibtion activities have quieted down and it's tme to focus on painting in the studio. If the winter weather remains as fair as it has been then I'm planning on a once a week plein air outing as well as Tuesday night trips to the Zoll Fine Art Studio for evening model sessions.


This year I will be experimenting more with personalizing my brushwork so that my pastel and oil paintings share common characteristics.  The gesture of form and textural quality of nature is something I try to capture in my paintings. I've found that larger bristle brushes are wonderful for painting grasses and weathered barns. A large, stiff, long, flat brush  helps me to establish the gestural quality of form faster than if I were to use a smaller delicate brush. Painting knives allow me to place a lot of paint on the surface. The edges can be adjusted with a brush. A knife creates a hard edge along a rooftop or assists in laying in a tree trunk, fence or other hardscape form. Trying out different knives, brushes, mediums and surfaces all play an important part in learning to achieve interesting variations with the oil medium. I went through the same process with pastel!


I've also been applying transparent mixtures in combination with thicker paint to create more contrast. Kenn Backhaus, made a very special point of sharing how important it is to achieve contrast within a painting, Not only, light and dark but with each fundemental element of design! It's fun to play!!


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There are times when an image is so haunting that I must take it to the easel and discover what happens during the painting process. I just competed this painting of a few old horse trailers. I was very attracted to the mood which is somewhat eerie because of the subject matter and dramatic sky. There is a mysterious feeling to this old place and I wanted to paint a story about it.


One of the challenges for me with this composition was maintaining the focus on the opening in the center of the building without having it completely dominate the painting. I used the horse trailer to the right of the opening to help pull the eye a bit to the right. Placing a rich, warm color on this trailer helped  to solve this issue. I buried most of the horse trailer on the far right side under the brambles and vines and kept it very quiet in the painting to keep the viewer's eye focused on the center of interest.

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Painting in and around State College, PA.

Hilltop View, oil, 9x12


Recently, I visited my good friend Sarah Pollock up in State College, PA. for another round of plein air painting. She graciously invites me up for a visit and never runs short of fabulous places to paint. They've had a fair amount of rain in the area so everything is lush and green. Some artists shy away from that green scenery but HEY, GREEN is my favorite color! There are so many varities of green to challenge the eye. Throw in a few red barns, some atmospheric blue hills, good friends to keep you company and you've got a perfect combination for a good painting experience. I should also mention that her husband Tim is a fabulous chef and after a day of painting there's the gourmet dinner!


Hazy Day On The Farm, oil, 9x12


One of things that usually catches me by surprise is the Amish community. They ride around on wagons and buggies and I feel like I've been transported to another time and place. It's absolutely charming to see them about, working n the fields and playing with their children. It makes me wonder what living that lifestyle would be like. They must appreciate thier beautiful and peaceful environment.


I'm trying to become more comfortable with "slinging the paint", (a quote from Kenn Backhaus!) I've been mixing up larger, thicker puddles on my palette and leaving out the Gamsol medium. I think this helps my paint from becoming too thin. I've also been preparing my own panels by glueing oil primed linen to Gatorfoam boards. I like the surface and the smaller panels are lightweight and travel well. Next time maybe I'll remember to pack my wet panel carrier...AARGH!! I also need to work on not painting "myself" quite so much!



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Plein Air Curacao!




I'm very excited to be traveling this August to participate in the first "Plein air Curacao" event. Curacao, I have just recently learned is a small island just off the northern coast of of the islands in the Dutch (Netherland) Antilles. I am here in the comfort of my studio contimplating the blue oil paints that I should take in order to capture the amazing color of the water that surrounds the island! Any suggestions out there?


There are a few "first time experiences" going on here for me which will entail learning a thing or two. Of course, learning anything usually involves a few challenges.


First time traveling abroad with art materials

First time plein air painting on a tropical island.

First time painting water the color of turqoise!


Nancy Tankersley, an incredible painter, gallery owner, art school director, event organizer as well as a super nice individual has again outdone herself by establishing this island plein air event, rounding up artists, workshop istructors, workshop does she manage? She has so much passion for people and painting!  This event takes place simultaneously with the North Sea Jazz festival so I'm planning on emersing myself in painting, music, snorkeling and whatever else this small paradise has to offer.


I'll try and post some paintings and pics while painting on the island August 28 through September 2!

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"Open Skies" Plein Air show at the Saint James Episcopal Church

I've been out painting in my neck of the woods for the past month or two in preparation for an upcoming plein air event at the  Saint James Episcopal Church in beautiful Monkton, MD. Charlie Barton, the pastor of this church is committed to bringing art and the church community together. This church has an Art Committee and they do a marvelous job organizing and running the art events. The profits are used for charitable purposes.

There are several other artists participating in this show, Sam Robinson, Will Williams, Hai Ou Hau, Hiu Lai Chong and Palden Hamilton. We began painting back in February documenting the seasonal change in the North County area from winter to spring. I began with a pastel painting of a tree along the Gunpowder River bank while standing in about a foot and a half of snow. Just the other day I was out breathing in gobs of pollen. It appeared as if the trees were literally smoking as the breeze lifted off the pollen and sent it wafting off into the air. Arrangements have been made to paint on location with the support of a few landowners in the area and invite the public to come to meet the artists and watch them work. Here are a few of the paintings I'll be showing at the church show.






Bringing Art to the community!!


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Kenn Backhaus Workshop, Field Study to large Studio Painting

It's been a busy spring and I had the good fortune to spend a week in Buck's County, PA. with a good painting buddy of mine, Sarah Pollock at the Stone Ridge Farm attending a workshop with Kenn Backhaus. This is my second workshop with Mr. Backhaus. He brings his experience with plein air work to the classroom where he demonstrates how to move from the field study and photo reference to the final large piece. The information you bring back from the field in terms of the correct value and color comparisons and relationships can offer much more than a photograph ever could. The photograph can be used for details that the plein air painter, due to the changing light may not be able to capture during the initial field study. The time in the studio allows the artist the opportunity to reconsider compositional changes and a chance to slow down and think more thoughtfully about creating that larger piece while still

holding onto the feeling of being there. Where sometimes composition and accuracy are not obtained when painting plein air, Mr. Backhaus feels there is an honesty that comes across in a field study that is difficult to achieve in the studio. 

Here is an example of one of the demonstrations provided by the instructor:




You can see Mr. Backhaus's initial response to the subject carried through to an interim vertical painting and onto the large, 20 X 24 size painting. He has changed the vertical format to a horizontal format opening up the space around the house. In the last image shown he is about three quarters of the way finished. He was able to move through the process fairly quickly since he knew exactly what the concept was.


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Could it be the Super Moon?

I had a wonderful few days and I'm wondering if the SUPER MOON was working it's magic! An artist that I greatly admire invited me to particpate in a show, Each One Invites One, at the McBride Gallery, the premier gallery in Annapolis Maryland. Four gallery artists were featured in this show and each artist was asked to invite an artist that they admire, whose work had never previously been exhibited in the gallery.  Sam Robinson, invited me! Sam, is an amazingly talented artist who works in a variety of mediums. He paints portraits, landscapes, equestrian, interiors, still life and even does beautiful decorative architectural painting that absolutely blows my mind. I have painted on location with him and watched him create a half a dozen beautiful little gems using gouache. During the opening event for the show each of the gallery artists were asked to speak about what it was they admired about their invitee! An interesting conversation began and artists and visitors of the show got a bit of an education about what is involved in making a good painting. I also appreciate my family and friends that came out to support me and the other artists in the community of Annapolis.


The day before, I gave a pastel landscape demonstration to the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association, (MAPAPA) at their annual meeting. I will admit I was a bit nervous to perform before so many fine painters. Oil painters, watercolorists and pastelists were among the attendees. I had to try and design a presentation that would present an overview of the medium and speak to all artists..not only pastelists. It was a great experience for me and I appreciate all of the artists that came out for the meeting and sat through two demonstrations. David Lussier, was the morning demonstrator and my pastel demonstration took place in the afternoon. His plein air oil painting was very interesting and I learned a few more important lessons to add to my long list of painting tips. I respect how many artists are willing to share their knowledge and experience with others.


I think every artist has a few very special artists that they receive inspiration from. Someone that's placed high up there on the art pedastal of life, if there is such a thing! Their painting technique, design, work ethic, joy for teaching and so much more continue to provide guidance and enthusiasm that help to foster the creative process. Marc Hanson, is an artist that fulfills this response in me. If he were a musician he would be the "Rock Star"! Who knows, maybe he's both! I just found out that he awarded my painting entitled, "Moving On" with a Finalist award in the February Bold Brush contest. His pastels and oils, painted in both the studio and en plein air are absolutely fantastic.


  Moving On, Pastel, 18 X 24 (now showing at the McBride Gallery)


Judge's Comments: Lisa has put me in a place where I can smell the cooling of the earth in the shadows amidst the weeds, corn and dirt road with her wonderfully painted pastel. Her use of textural elements, color and good drawing to back up the concept only comes from years of experience. The painting has an almost animated quality to it that feels like the country that we've all experienced. The details and textural elements are well done, not overly drawn out or detailed and all unique to their place in the landscape she's painting.



This last surprise brought my weekend to a pleasant conclusion. It was a SUPER weekend underneath the SUPER moon!



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Under-painting for "Moving On"

Like so many artists, I'm intrigued by highways, byways and pathways. Are they only meant to be a way of getting from one place to another? When out scouting for new locations to paint, I find myself drawn to turn down the road I've not yet explored. Always wondering what could be around the bend in the road..this represents my character in a way. I'm not so much a collector of "things", (well maybe a small collection of artworks), but I'm more about collecting memories of new places and experiences. If you happen to be my passenger on one of my painting outings you may never know where you'll end up!


This is a gouache under-painting for a piece entitled, "Moving On". Warm light moving across across this country road is the concept for this piece and it makes me wonder where this path will lead. I painted the warm colors underneath to help me hold on to the color of the light when I paint the local color with the pastels. I enjoy documenting these under-paintings as a reminder of the initial concept that lies beneath the finished work.



Final Painting!


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Techno Tools for the Artist


I love technology and I'm open to finding new ways to incorporate these tools into my fine art.  A computer, digital camera and desk top monitor have been standard fixtures in my studio. Now, I have the ipad. An artist demonstrated to me a few days ago, how to create color sketches using this handy device. I had been using it to create black and white Notan studies but hadn't taken the time to investigate how to push this a bit further. It was suggested that I purchase a "stylus" to use for drawing the image on the ipad touch screen instead of my finger because resting your hand on the screen will disturb the image while I'm working. I went to the Apple store and picked up a Pogo sketch pen. The tip is similar to the eraser head of a standard pencil. I spent some time fooling around with sketching and I found this to be a worthy tool that I can add to my list of fine art gadgets! The Sketchbook Pro AP works very nicely for this purpose.


I will not give up drawing on paper surfaces but I can see how the ipad will help with preliminary concepts and sketches.


Here are my two studies using the ipad:



After I created the value sketch I saved it to the gallery on my ipad. To create the color sketch I opened the gray value sketch and using the painting tools and palette on Sketchbook Pro I added the color right on top and saved a copy in color.


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Dominique, What's On Your Mind?

Bold Brush Competition Winner, January 2011, Finalist, Outstanding Pastel


It's 2011, and I'm finding myself enjoying portraiture once again. I gave myself a break from portrait commissions for a year or two only to find myself circling back to them once again. Last year I began taking an oil painting portrait class once a week and drawing from the figure at night. This has motivated me to find a renewed interest in portraits. I think after doing so many portraits over the past 20-something years I lost the ability to connect emotionally with the subjects.

I've painted Dominique from life a few times before so I was familiar with her features. Her heavy-lidded eyes are full of expression. I wanted to capture something going on behind those eyes. She's a very talented painter. Is she daydreaming about her next masterpiece? I used a very toothy, hard sanded pastel surface, recycled from some 2010 unsuccessful painting. I began to fill up the surface with layers of pastel and found it quite nice to paint on. I'm rather attached to one particular surface, Art Spectrum, Supertooth paper so I was kind of stepping outside the ol' comfort zone with this different surface.

I was pleased with the outcome of this piece. My goal for 2011 is to paint the emotional story of the subject, no matter what that subject will be. I'm looking forward to discovering new things about my work and myself this year!

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Head Studies - Good Practice for discerning subtle temperature changes.

I spent a few hours this week painting head studies. They are not finished pieces but they represent time well spent studying the human form. Both were done with different light sources which gave me the opportunity to observe the very subtle shifts in temperature from one side of the form to the other. Both of these models were excellent like all of the models at Zoll Studio. They provide only the best!


The female head had a very strong warm orange light striking her right side while the light from the other side was cool, presenting with more of a pink and cool green color.



The male had a heavy growth of facial hair with skin showing through so this challenge was learning to cool down the face just enough to indicate the beard but still having him look lifelike as too much blue has a tendency to deaden the color. The pink tone on his upper cheek transitioned into green then blue. This seemed a strange progression but true to what the eye sees.




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What's on my easel today?

Well, the wind in Maryland is blowing about 35 mile per hour and the wind chill is 24 degrees so I'm indoors working on a studio painting. I've sorted through my reference material and conceptualized an idea for my next painting. I visited this particular farm in Monkton, Md. many times before and have produced several paintings from this location.


I began by creating a Notan (black/white) value sketch to illustrate my concept. Moving things around here and there and looking for ways to simplify the larger masses of light and dark. I decided to open up the sky to create a greater feeling of space while holding on to the sweeping shapes of light.



Next I transferred my sketch of the key shapes of the design to the 18 X 24 sanded (Art Spectrum Supertooth) surface using a 2B pencil. Now, I'm ready to block in the masses of light and dark.



Using gouache as an under-painting medium I quickly blocked in the main shapes of dark and light. I decided to use a warm tone for the under-painting of the sky and shapes of light in the pasture areas. The pastures are green in chroma so when I begin applying the pastel I'll scumble a variety of greens over the red orange to give a feeling of the earth peeking through fields of thick green grass. The strong shadow shapes help to define the shapes of light. In the photo below the shadows seem almost black however they are painted with dark reds, purples and greens. Using this approach of defining light and dark value shapes will keep me focused on my concept for the painting. I opened up the hedgerow to create a path for the viewer into the back pasture. One of the luxuries of studio painting is that I can now stop working on this, think about it for awhile and begin the pastel painting tomorrow with a fresh eye!



I completed this piece while holding on to my concept of the shapes of light winding throughout the open passages between the trees and hedgerow providing movement through the composition.


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Sharing Gives Back

    Demo: Field Cluster off of Springtown Road, 12 X 18


Yesterday I had the pleasure of providing a demonstration and talk on the topic of pastels at the Saint James Church Fall Harvest and Hunt Show in Monkton, Maryland. The group listening was comprised of artists and non-artists. This hour long sharing of information gave me just enough time to introduce the medium of soft pastel and cover some basic topics like:


What soft pastels are made of and the variety of choices available to the artist

What surface do pastelists paint on

How to create a pastel panel

How to frame pastels without a mat

How to develop a concept and design a painting

How to apply the pastel to the surface to achieve texture and atmosphere


I feel this kind of interaction between the artist and the public creates an enthusiasm for appreciating and hopefully purchasing pastel art. Our potential clients are smart people who have a deep desire to gain more understanding about what's going on in the art world. If you don't understand a product and it's qualities you're less likely to make a purchase, right? The same thing applies to art. Most potential collectors are familiar with oils and watercolors but the medium of pastel has not exactly saturated the art market. Walk into your local gallery and see how many paintings you see in oil verses pastel and watercolor. Giving a demonstration and explaining the medium allows collectors to comprehend how the artist uses their medium to express the true concept for their painting. For me, sometimes it is through oils and brush that I make my statement while another concept may be better communicated with soft pastel.


Pastel is sometimes a misunderstood medium. Is it chalk? Is that oil pastel? Is it an oil painting? These are questions I hear often. Pastel is a beautiful medium with it's own unique characteristics and I plan to continue searching for new ways to reveal the beauty of this medium and sharing it with others. If there are pastelists out there that might read this message, please take the time, now and then to share your knowledge with others about the pastel medium. Pastel is gaining popularity as a versatile and fatastic quality medium.  Spread the word!

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Studio Tour featured in the December issue of the Pastel Journal

I remember how much effort my husband and I put into designing and building of my in-home studio. Many hours were invested on this project, not to mention the money. Hundreds of portrait commissions paid for my creative sanctuary. It's a wonderful feeling to be able to reap the rewards of all that hard work.


My studio design ideas and tips for helping artists design their own studio space has been featured in the December, 2010 issue of the Pastel Journal. Stephanie Birdsall, a very talented pastel painter also shares her beautiful brand new studio with the Pastel Journal readers. Deborah Secor, the writer of this article was a joy to work with and I think she continues to do a marvelous job keeping the community of pastelists connected and informed.

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A Good Day

This past Saturday I was fortunate and honored to have my painting entitled, "Sweeping The Hill" presented with the Best in show award by Lisa Egeli, an amazing artist and the juror for the Maryland Pastel Society Members Only Juried Exhibition.

I was given a second thrill when selected by my peers and presented with the Members Choice Award for the same painting. To receive an award from my artist friends was indeed very emotional for me.
I haven't entered many painting competitions in my career as an artist but occasionally putting my work out there seeking a professional opinion does provide me with an understanding of where I fit in with other artists that work in the medium of pastel. There are so many great, smart painters out there and it's satisfying to know that now and again I can fit in somewhere among them. Very cool!

   Sweeping The Hill, 16 X 20
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Painting Kahla at the David Laffel workshop at Zoll Studio

I spent last week at a wonderful David Laffel workshop sponsored by the Zoll Studio in Lutherville, MD. David is a giving teacher who communicates beautifully both verbally and visually. It felt like art therapy and painting instruction that entwined and overlapped in such a way as to result in a very special learning experience. It's amazing to have the opportunity to spend four days with an artist that spent his lifetime developing his approach to painting.

David demonstrated how he moves through the process of conceptualizing his still life painting by designing with movement,  light against shadow shapes and then following up with his painterly technique. He described how to hold your paint brush, apply the paint so that your paint brush and canvas don't actually touch, only the paint should touch the canvas. Have your strokes of paint begin and end. Use your body to paint, not just your hand and wrist. It was a joy to watch him paint. There were maybe 50 people in the studio during the portrait demo and you could not hear a sound. He had to ask if we were all still there!

"Still Life Demo by David Laffel"

As he visited with each student at the easel I could hear him continuously reminding students to ,"just paint", "simplify", "use more color", "don't worry so much, just do it", and SO much more.

David believes we all see differently from one another. Who we are as people will speak through our paintings. Artists should not copy what they see but interpret and edit what they see by developing a strong concept and hold onto that concept throughout their painting. Let the painting speak to you and it will tell you what it needs. Artists have heard this time and time again but somehow David Laffel has a way of communicating this point artistically and spiritually.

Students painted their own still life set up in the morning and then moved to portrait painting in the afternoon. I was painting beautiful Kahla and was in awe when he asked me to try warming up the shadow side of her face with Cadmium Red. I have always thought that shadow areas should be cool in relation to the light side of the form but he suggested that warm color is a relative term. Red is cool relative to yellow. Green is cool relative to yellow and red and so on. Wow, this simple yet intelligent observation makes so much sense to me now and will keep my figures looking more alive with color!
  "My portrait painting of Kahla"

I need to spend some time with David's book, my notes and paintings. It will take me a while to let it all sink in! I will forever hear his soothing voice in my head reminding me to, "Slow down and make logical sense out of what I am seeing before me. Observation is essential in art and life".

Matt Zoll, Carol Thompson and the other instructors at the Zoll Studio did such a wonderful job orchestrating this entire event. It was a fantastic opportunity and experience and I can't thank them enough for their efforts in making this a memorable workshop.

David Laffel's quote:
"Painting is a lot of nothing and a little bit of something".
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