Thursday, November 21, 2013

Another Weekend in Putney

This past weekend, I was given another wonderful learning opportunity, as well as a chance to fellowship with like-minded people who are passionate about painting. I got to go back to Putney, VT, to paint once more with the Putney Painters... and this time, on Saturday, Richard Schmid was there!

Richard was as warm, kind, funny, clever, and generous as I imagined he would be. After reading "Alla Prima," I already felt as though I knew him, because he writes in the same manner as he speaks: eloquently, succinctly, and always with a great sense of humor. He and Nancy make the most wonderful pair. As if it weren't enough that they are world-class painters, in a category of their own - they are among the most gracious and loving people I have ever met. While they have every right to be snobby and stand-offish, they are the complete opposite. And... they surround themselves with equally good company; the Putney Painters are a wonderful group of artists who truly care about each other, and passionately pursue excellence in their art. Egos are left at the door, and everyone who enters the Village Arts barn does so with a certain openness. All are there to learn, even Richard himself.

Photo by Rosemary Ladd
That being said, we had the perfect painting environment. We also had the perfect model; 11-year-old Grace, Carol Arnold's daughter, modelled for us once more, like a true pro (I think she did a better job than some of the grown-ups I've worked with...).

Since I was the guest, I got to set up my easel right behind Richard and watch him work, while I painted. I was tempted to hover right over his shoulder and watch the whole time, but I decided to paint anyway. I didn't think I would be intimidated by having him in the same room as me, but I was... just a little. :-)

Richard's whimsical start. I was surprised that he started with a gesture drawing,
as I had never seen that in any of his books or elsewhere.
Obviously, a master painter can start any way he pleases.

Richard's progress farther along: such mastery of separating light
and shadow, keeping things simple, designing with brush strokes,
and expressing his delight over the capabilities of paint!

During breaks, we would ask questions and both Richard and Nancy were gracious enough to share their knowledge with us.

Stephanie Birdsall was also visiting from Tucson. Here we are
listening to Richard's words of wisdom. :-) Photo by Carol Arnold.

Lori Woodward, Stephanie Birdsall, and Rosemary Ladd, with Richard

Nancy's incredible painting. Perfect whites, perfect design, even perfect little freckles!
When Richard walked by it, he said, "Nancy's work lately has been transcendent."

Nancy pointing out some things for me to work on. :-) Photo by Carol Arnold

The lighting that day was particularly challenging. It was set up slightly below the model, casting light on her chin, under her nose and eye sockets, etc. - where one might usually expect to find shadows. We had to rely instead on appropriate color temperature and subtle value changes to express the form. Richard set everything up himself, including the lighting, the pose, and the costume. He also made sure to play a wide variety of classical music to inspire us throughout the day as we worked. I must say, I was a big fan of his taste in music. :-)

I was given a few helpful pointers by both Richard and Nancy throughout the day, mostly pertaining to color temperature and appropriately soft edges. I always knew that the most intense color can be found at the separation of the light and shadow (i.e., at the bridge of the nose), but I never really knew why, at least from a scientific standpoint. Richard explained that it's because of the way the light passes through the form. He compared it to what happens when you hold your hand over a flash light: all of your finders glow red. Skin is translucent (as opposed to transparent), and light, even as it passes through a thicker structure such as a nose or a chin, still causes that effect to a greater or lesser extent.

At lunch, we talked about how to solve some of the problems we were dealing with in our paintings, but things continually got off on a tangent (as Lori Woodward warned me of this, ha!). Richard liked to ruffle feathers, bringing up politics and religion whenever he got a chance. Our lunch conversation ranged from everything from the mayor of Toronto to the origination of Barbie Dolls (?). We also got to Skype with Kathy Anderson and Daniel Keys, who were giving a demo at the Greenhouse Gallery. Their audience was thrilled to hear from Richard and Nancy!

I have to thank Nancy Guzik for taking these photos... otherwise I would not have gotten a picture with Richard. I'm not sure what he was telling me in the photo below... but it must have been amusing!

At the end of the day, there were many beautiful paintings and drawings around the room, all by talented and hard-working artists. When Richard at last came up to mine, he said with all sincerity, "This is gorgeous!" I was stunned, and replied, "I think my heart just stopped, hearing that from you!" "Well," he said, "then let me find something to criticize." He pointed out an edge at the hairline for me to fix, and I actually felt better after that. Back to reality! Give me something to work on and I'll come down off of cloud nine. :-)

With the beautiful model and my painting of her!
"Grace," 16x12", oil on Raymar panel. Finished after
tweaking in my studio.
The next day (Sunday), we painted at the barn again, but this time without Richard. As you can see from the picture below (courtesy of Carol Arnold), frolicking and merriment ensued...

 ... and also a lot of excellent, focused work!

I did this oil sketch of Grace (below) within the first hour and a half or so. When Nancy saw it, she told me I should stop there. Everything I needed to say had been said. It was an excellent exercise in restraint, which is something I could definitely apply to more of my work.

Interestingly, the sketch garnered some criticism--or perhaps concern--when I posted it later on Facebook. Some people said it didn't look like "an Anna Rose Bain," but more like a Schmid. The concern was that I was going to become another Schmid copyist and not have a voice of my own. I suppose many young artists deal with this problem when they choose to study with someone, especially for a longer period of time. I replied to the comments by saying that whenever I am in a learning situation, I try my best to do as the teacher would do. My goal is to learn as much as I can from them, and if my painting ends up looking like theirs while I am with them, that's okay. That doesn't mean I'm going to start cranking out carbon copies of the teacher's work! I don't intend to change my style. When I go back to my studio, I take what I learned and fuse it with my already established working methods in the hope that they will be that much better. My paintings still come out looking like my own. I will never be a "little Schmid," or a "little Sargent," or anything else. I have always hummed to my own tune, and that won't change... but I will NEVER stop learning! :-)

It was a wonderful weekend and I learned sooooo much! Here are some things I discovered I need to work on:

1) Broken color. Okay, I'll admit it... I've always been scared of this technique, made famous by the beloved Impressionists. The idea is that you use complementary colors side-by-side in order to create the illusion of blending when viewed from a distance. When done well, broken color can make a painting SING. It's time I embraced the challenge.

2) Color temperature relationships. I understand them, in theory, and have gotten pretty good at explaining them to my students. But I could always use more practice seeing and painting them better. That just takes a lot of time and practice.

3) Design. Composition is a bear. Sometimes I think it comes naturally to me, but most of the time, I have to make a deliberate effort  to place the shapes in my painting just so. This is an element of art that I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to master.

How fortunate we artists are! The learning never ends, and the joy of new discoveries keeps us going, despite whatever shortcomings or flaws we may have. If only that joy could transcend into every aspect of our lives... how much richer this journey would become. :-)



  1. Anna, what a wonderful experience. Truly probably a once in a lifetime chance to spend time with Richard. I'm so happy for you! So anxious to see you in the new year and pick your brain on your new knowledge. Be happy and well and enjoy the holidays

  2. Anna, what a delightful post! I've always felt that someone with your talent can benefit more from Schmid than less seaoned painters because you already know how to paint with your own voice. Schmid is such a pefect technician that following his practises can lead to a "Schmidification " if you haven't already done work on your own. But that's my two cents. Just keep signing your name legibly...


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