I registered to spend a week at Nimrod Hall again this summer, but it was not to be. Laura Loe, the owner and operator of Nimrod, decided to cancel the whole 2020 season in light of the need for social distancing to stay safe. I was heartbroken, but it was the right thing to do. I will need to focus on the 2021 season instead.
Nimrod is such a magical place where artists go to fuel our creativity. This year I had signed up with Kesra Hoffman again. I don’t usually sign up for the same instructor, but Kesra is very versatile (watercolor, acrylic, gouache), allowing me to run with whatever medium I am in the mood for. But since she really excels at gouache I thought I’d practice a bit. Here’s a painting done from a photo I took of the Raven’s Roost Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway not to far from where we live.
It’s on Arches 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper. For watercolor I usually work on cold pressed paper, which has a rough surface. I thought the smoother surface would be nice with gouache.
Gouache is opaque watercolor, so in many ways it behaves the same, but it is also very different. One thing that really struck me for this painting is the difference in how the colors work. Watercolor dries lighter than what it appears when you apply it. Gouache dries darker. As a result, the colors in this painting are bright and bold, and not particularly realistic. I ended up not minding that too much. I particularly like the highlights and the shadows in the mountains. I can’t get that effect in watercolor. I think that is partly because watercolor is transparent and blends more than gouache, and partly because of the smoother surface of the paper. I will need to experiment more.
I hope everyone is home and safe and free from COVID-19. Please take care and be well!
I apologize for this really long post. I wanted to capture the whole week-long journey all at once. I love Nimrod Hall!
Day 1-sketching and getting my Rhythm
We arrive on Sunday afternoon. Actual painting days are Monday through Thursday. On Friday, check out time is about 11 AM. So that’s four full days of painting. A rare luxury of which I planned to take full advantage!
Monday morning I decided the best approach was to go out with my sketchbook. This would give me a chance to loosen up and get comfortable. Laura Loe is good at putting cute little paint-able things around. Last time I visited I noticed this bicycle at the front entrance to the property with geraniums and other flowers planted on it. I regretted not taking a photo of it since my last visit, so I decided it would be my first subject. I chose watercolor pencils as my medium, but did the foliage on the trees with regular water color. The challenge with this one is that it was our hottest day and I was sitting on my uncomfortable folding stool in the blazing hot sun. I could only tolerate that for so long. I did get a fun little sketch.
After that, I decided I needed to get 1) out of the sun, and 2) into a more comfortable chair, so I decided to paint the two red seesaws on the lawn between Square House and the Post Office. This allowed me to sit in an Adirondack chair under a tree. It was much more comfortable.
I chose line and wash as my medium. I did the sketch and inking (mostly) before lunch. After lunch the sun had moved so I was forced to move my chair. The charge in light and perspective did not matter too much since I’d already captured the drawing. I spent the afternoon finishing This up and felt it was a good second effort for the day.
Day 2- Landscape Painting in My studio
Monday evening our teacher, Kesra Hoffman did a gouache demo for our class. She said she resisted the medium at first but then decided that she could just use it like watercolor and grew to love it. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but I do agree that if you start with a wash and build up, that first layer is similar to water color. Watching the demo was humbling because Kesra is so comfortable with the medium. I knew I needed to try it to see what kind of results I could get.
Another factor that helped set my direction for the day was my realization that I should get over needing to do plein air and paint in my studio. As I said in my earlier post I have always thought of Nimrod as a plein air location, but found that many of the artists there with me did not subscribe to that way of thinking. I figured I had paid for the studio so why not use it?
I went for a nice walk on Tuesday morning and took some nice pictures. I decided to spend my day painting a landscape from one of my photos in both watercolor and gouache to compare the two mediums. The reference photo I used is below. I like it because of the clouds and the contrast between the green grass and trees and the golden fields. I also noted the clump of trees right at the end of the road. Technically this is a composition no-no, but I kind of liked it so I decided to run with it.
I painted the watercolor and the gouache together, switching from one to the other during drying time. There are similarities and differences between the two mediums. I learned that the gouache can get undesirable “blooms” just like watercolor. The gouache yields harder edges where soft edges are easy in watercolor.
When Kesra came by in the afternoon and did her critique she pointed out a couple of things. First, my road did not go far enough into the center of the painting. She showed me how I’d made an error in the proportions as they appeared in the photo. Second, she pointed out that the trees at the end of the road weren’t really working. I’d hoped they would, but I was wrong. She also pointed out that the variations in color along the tree line in the gouache were really nice, but the watercolor was too consistent.
I was able to cover and move the road in the gouache, but that was not possible with the watercolor—a distinct difference between the opaque and transparent mediums. I also lifted some color on the tree line in the watercolor, but in a subsequent critique Kesra pointed out that it was a little too formulaic. Here are the two paintings. They are 10” x 4” on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper.
I really liked doing the same scene in two different mediums. It was very educational, not only in learning about the different media, but also in studying and interpreting the scene. I decided to keep it going the next day by doing the same scene in oil and acrylic.
Day 3 – More Landscape Painting in my Studio
When I was packing to go to Nimrod I packed way more than I needed for art supplies, because I didn’t know what I’d be doing and wanted to have whatever I needed. I am happy I did that, because I ended up doing some things that were out of the ordinary…like painting in acrylics. I had these two little 12 x 6 stretched canvases that I tossed in. I like the 2:1 footprint for landscapes, although I usually paint bigger. Painting smaller has its advantages if you’re painting plein air or trying to do a lot of quick studies.
So on Wednesday morning with my two little canvases in hand I set out to paint the same scene in oil and acrylic. I haven’t painted much in acrylic in years. I get very frustrated with it because once I switched to oils, I couldn’t take acrylic’s fast drying time.
Once again I switched back and forth between the two. Of course, that didn’t allow the oil to dry…that takes weeks or even months. Switching still gave me a break. It’s always good to look away.
Similar to the gouache, the acrylic yields much harder edges. The fast drying paint makes it hard to blend the colors, but the oils are very difficult to get hard edges with. You can do it if you wait for it to dry, but that takes a long time.
I like the colors better in the oil version. There is more variation. Some of that is the nature of the slower drying oils, but I also had a more extensive palette of oils to start with. I only had a limited number of acrylics, even after supplementing them by buying more in “The Art Box” bus which is parked at Nimrod every summer to provide artists with materials they find they need but don’t have with them.
When looking at all four versions I found that I got bolder with the skies on the second day, so the oil and acrylic versions have much more dramatic clouds, which I think is an improvement. I found myself wishing I’d been more daring with the skies in the watercolor and gouache versions. Here are the two paintings from Wednesday.
Day 4 – Another Day of Gouache and Watercolor, but Not the Same Subject
I had one last day to paint and after spending two full days interpreting the same scene I was ready for something different. I did two more paintings on Thursday – one watercolor and one gouache.
On Tuesday evening we had a thunderstorm followed by brightening skies and a rainbow over a nearby ridge. I brought out the camera and took a lot of pictures. While I was doing so I pronounced, rainbows are nearly impossible to paint. So what did I do? I painted the rainbow!
Several years ago I did an oil painting of a rainbow from a photo a friend had taken. I was not happy with the result. I decided that watercolor might be friendlier. I hoped that if I did a wet in wet approach I could get the primary colors to bleed into a full ROYGBV* spectrum. It kind of worked, but not nearly as well as I had hoped.
The criticism Kesra had for me was that I did not get enough atmospheric distance in my mountains. They were too green, which is never the case when you’re looking at them at a distance. This is something I’m still trying to train my engineer’s brain to do. I need to learn to see, and paint what I see, rather than painting what I know to be true. Yes, the mountains are green…and yes they look green to me in the picture, but they are much bluer than I think. I really need to work on this! Here is the painting. (10” x 7” Arches 140 lb cold press)
And here is the reference photo.
* red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet
In the morning I’d gone for a walk and I found a pretty scene with a dead tree (dead trees are great fun to paint) and a field in the background with hay bales. I decided it would be fun to do as a gouache study for my final painting. This is probably the one I spent the least time on. We had the walk-through that evening and so there was a lot of pressure to get it done.
Kesra didn’t have a lot to say about this one. I like the sky but the rest of it is a little flat. I could probably correct that if I spent some time on shadows and highlights. I may also do this again in watercolor. Here is the painting. (6” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold press)
Each Nimrod art week finishes on Thursday night with a walk through where everyone displays what they were working on and people walk through and see it. As Laura Loe explained, it’s not really a critique… it’s more of a “love-fest”. I must say, people did some lovely work.
I painted up until almost the last minute and then tidied up my studio, which of course was a mess. I did take a break to shower, but most everyone was well dressed and I was still in my shorts and t-shirt. Oh well.
People seemed to like my story about my scene that I painted in different media. They were interested in which I liked best and I explained that all had their pluses and minuses, but the process was very educational. Here I am with my work.
Is I said in an earlier post, Kesra did her own thing in the morning and did critiques of our work in the afternoon. She did some beautiful work. Her gouaches really pop. I’m hoping to keep practicing my gouache. I’m inspired by how beautiful hers are. Here she is with her body of work from the week and a few other things she threw in. The two landscapes on the upper right were the demo she did for us on Monday evening.
Nimrod is a magical place and it’s wonderful to spend time with such creative people in such an inspirational place. I’m already looking forward to next year.
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After a two-year break I finally returned to Nimrod Hall this year for their Summer Arts Program. This is the first time I’ve gone for a full week – my past three visits were all weekend workshops. I was excited to go again, but a little nervous about the “rustic-ness” of it for a full week. I did fine with my back corner room in Square House, despite the fact that my shared shower was too small to turn around in. Halfway through the week I even found an alternative to that. Fortunately our weather was not too hot, so the lack of air conditioning was not a problem.
The instructor I signed up for was Kesra Hoffman. I chose her because she does beautiful gouache paintings. Gouache is a medium I’ve not worked a lot in but would like to learn to use better. At Nimrod you can sign up for a particular instructor or you can sign up for an “open-week” where you just paint what you like. Total we had about 30 people for the week. Ten were signed up for Kesra and the other 20 were open week.
An example of Kesra’s art
Each instructor is different, but there seems to be a general assumption that Nimrod full-week attendees are experienced painters who don’t need or want a lot of instruction. Kesra’s style was to do demos in the evening and be hands off doing her own thing in the morning. Then in the afternoon she would come around and do one-on-one critiques of what we were working on. That worked pretty well for me.
One great thing about Nimrod Hall is that it comes with three meals a day, eliminating the need to cook, clean up, or look for restaurants. This means more time to focus on painting or just relaxing. Chef Jim spends most of his year cooking at a fraternity at Washington and Lee in Lexington VA but for the past several summers he has worked at Nimrod. His food is fabulous. It’s got a local southern flair, but is in no way plain. Everything is family style and I can assure you no one goes away hungry. I’m not a dessert eater, but every night after dinner we got something that was big and gooey and irresistible. I was trying to diet for an upcoming vacation, but gave up after a couple of days.
This year I also did something different… in 2014 Laura Loe, artist and Nimrod Hall owner, decided to establish “studio row” a grouping of 10 individual studios each in its own little approximately 10’ by 10’ house. Studios have a front porch covered with an awning allowing you to work inside or outside depending on your preference. They don’t have much of a view, so if you plan to paint there you will need to paint from reference photos, or other material. I rented one, primarily motivated the need for an easy and accessible place to store all of my art supplies for the week. If I ended up with an upstairs room (I didn’t) I was certain to struggle with carrying everything up and down those stairs every day. Sadly I’m not as young as I once was. I got studio #7 and ultimately ended up doing a lot of painting there. It was protection from the occasional rain showers, and provided a nice little space where I could concentrate on honing my craft.
On a related theme, I’ve always considered Nimrod to be a place for plein air painting. The instructors in my weekend workshops have encouraged us to set up as a class outside and paint. As I said earlier, the weeklong workshops seem to encourage a more independent approach. Many of the artists brought partially finished works that they wanted to focus on and finish. Others painted from photos. Some just painted from their mind’s eye. So, after the first day I got over the idea that I simply had to paint plein air. Took morning/evening walks and took reference photos and then painted from those.
As is true with any experience focused on a common activity, I really enjoyed spending the week with likeminded people. As I said, there were about 30 people there. Most were women but there were a few men. Kesra got her class together on the first evening and we all talked about our background and goals for the week. It was a great group of people that included, Jennifer Eidson, an artist from Columbia MD. This was her first time at Nimrod. Dolly, who was 87 years old and suffered from macular degeneration but still paints(!) was across the hall from me. She traveled to Nimrod from her home in Charleston WV with her daughter-in-law, Laura, who was a novelist and decided to use the time to edit her most recent book about the daughter of a hoarder. Porter Smith-Thayer painted on the porch of Square House most days. She is an oil painter and this was her first time at Nimrod Hall. Matt, a photographer for the Roanoke Times and watercolor artist was there. He and Jane, another watercolorist, had done Kesra’s week for the last few years and knew each other well.
Here is a group picture that was taken of most of the week’s artists including both Kesra’s class and the open-week participants.
Finally, the Nimrod Hall and its surroundings are beautiful and inspiring. It’s located in rural Bath County Virginia, which is right on the West Virginia border. Bath County has no incorporated towns or cities – even its county seat is an unincorporated and very charming town called Warm Springs. It is probably most known for the town of Hot Springs, which is home to the Homestead Resort, I lovely and very upscale hotel. The clean and beautiful Cowpasture River runs through the county and the wildlife is abundant. On our second day we had a visit from a bear. He was a juvenile, old enough to have left his mother, and was curious but in no way aggressive. And I might add, he was cute as a button. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture because when I reached for my iPhone if found an empty pocket because I’d left it on the table in my studio.
Here are some photos of Nimrod Hall and its surroundings.
Nimrod Hall Main House
Typical Painting Subject
The Cowpasture River
Old Boy’s Camp Cabins
The art I did will be the subject of my next post. Hope to have that up in a few days. Stay tuned…. (and subscribe!)
I’ve wanted to attend a class or a workshop at the Beverley Street Studio School (BSSS) in Staunton Virginia for a while, but every time I’ve tried to sign up, the things I’ve been interested in have been full. My timing was lucky more recently and I was able to sign up for a two day Traveling with Watercolors class (February 15-16) with Roanoke based artist Robin Poteet. The BSSS prides itself in providing high quality art instruction in a non-degree setting. I am thrilled that they are only about 45 minutes from me and look forward to attending more of their classes and workshops.
This class interested me because I do try to travel with my watercolors, but if find I rarely actually use them while traveling. This is for a variety of reasons, but I thought maybe a class could give me some pointers on how to get the most out of painting while on travel. I also read a book called The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes a few years back and I was intrigued by the idea of doing ink and wash sketches on site and thought this would give me more insights into that. I really didn’t have any expectations for the class, but it was great fun and provided me 12 hours of uninterrupted paint time. It allowed me to explore a new approach and mindset for painting and also gave me time to reflect on a recent vacation that I chose as the subject for this class.
Robin is a wonderful watercolor artist. She does beautiful studio work that you can see on her website, but she’s also has been leading travel painting trips for many years and has an awesome collection of travel sketchbooks that she’s developed during her travels.
She makes her own sketchbooks, which allows her to make them from her paper of choice (Arches). Watercolor sketchbooks don’t usually have 100% cotton paper in them, and lesser quality paper can be very frustrating. She gave us each a 12-page sketchbook that she made, and explained how she cuts the pages, makes the mat board covers and has them bound at Staples.
We started the class with her sharing all of her sketchbooks, I would estimate that she had close to 30 of them, and they provided great inspiration. She is a former designer and talked about the importance of the layout of each page, many of which had multiple sketches on a single page along with text. The page layout is my biggest challenge and will be something I need to work on. Below are several pictures of pages from her books.
This first one is painting from a trip to Wales. In addition to her loose and beautiful painting she has included a painting of a map showing where this place is. (Click images to enlarge.)
This next one is a spread from a trip to Ireland. This is a great example of how good she is at layout and design. Note that the image on the left carries over to the right hand page, but she’s included an inset of the countryside and the great dog painting.
This next one is the main plaza in Siena Italy. I like the two-page spread and the way she’s captured the activity and the people on the street level. This is extremely hard to do.
This last one is of Umbria, where my sister lives. This is another good example of layout with the two main pictures, but I love the window with the laundry and the pizza on the lower parts of the page. You will see that both of these inspired some of my work in my own sketchbook.
Robin provided a lot of roving commentary and critique, which was extremely useful. She did one demo of painting people, which we all said we needed. She emulated a page in a sketchbook (below). I’m sure she would have done more demos, but we were all so wrapped up in our own books we didn’t really ask her to. In hindsight I wish I could have watched her paint more.
I used my trip to Scotland in June of last year as my subject. I completed the cover and 10 of my 12 pages during the class time. I finished the last two pages when I returned home. Some of what I did is good, some not so much. There were times when I ran out of steam and it shows. Still, not too bad for a first effort.
The cover was made from gray mat board, but Robin embellishes hers by gluing hand painted tissue paper to them and then gluing a painted image to that. This part of the class was sort of ‘crafty’ and not really my thing. I think I’d be fine with mat board covers and the image and a title glued to them. She uses scrap mat board, which isn’t always clean, and also pointed out that the covers suffer wear and tear during travels so there is a need to cover them to make them look nice.
Here is my cover. The image is a quick sketch of Scottish countryside.
My next page includes a painting of the Old Packhorse Bridge and a bench outside our first hotel. I chose the bridge for this first page because I’ve painted it before and felt comfortable with it. Some of the students in the class said that painting the first page was intimidating because they feared they would mess up their book. Choosing something I was comfortable with was a good idea.
The next spread includes a painting of the first of many distilleries we visited. I included my sister standing in front — people are always hard. It’s something I need to practice more. The right hand page was a landscape, but I didn’t like it. I found it bland so Robin suggested that I could glue something on top of it to give it interest. I sketched a small botanical and did that.
The text was a challenge since I wasn’t prepared to recall details of my trip from eight months ago. Some of my pages have little to say. It would be easier to have more robust commentary if you did the book as you traveled or shortly afterward. It would also be helpful to keep a running journal.
The next spread included a lily pond from a garden we toured and a painting of laundry drying in a seaside village we visited. This was inspired by Robin’s laundry sketch. Laundry hanging to dry is always so colorful.
At this point I was realizing that my layouts were kind of boring. Robin suggested that I not include sky or frame these two in boxes, but let them fade out at their edges, which I did. I decided that the next two pages needed to be more interesting. As a result, they have more going on, but I’m clearly missing Robin’s designer’s eye. As I said, this is something I really need to work on.
I was starting to run out of steam and interesting subjects on the next two spreads. The sheep crossing the road was one of the ones I did once I got back home.
And finally, I tired my hand at a map.
While I have to say, none of this is my best work, I think I learned a lot that I can use to capture things plein air or in the room after a day of traveling. Sketching while traveling provides a new way to savor your vacation because you focus on capturing what you saw in a painting requires so much more reflection than just taking a photograph. I’m looking forward to doing more of this.
Sorry this is such a long post. If you’ve taken the time to read to the end, thank you!
So I’m woefully behind and need to do some posts to catch up, but this isn’t one of them. I tend to want to spend time painting rather than blogging, but both are important if I’m to chronicle my journey. So today I decided to live in the moment and post about what I just did.
Earlier today I watched a video by Steve Mitchell, Mind of Watercolor. I watch most of his videos as he is very good at teaching compared to a lot of the YouTube artists. The topic was line and wash, which is something I’ve done very little of.
I had this scene I’d been wanting to do from the valley. There’s this towering dead tree that is a dramatic form, with a backdrop of a dilapidated barn and some foothills. I decided it would make a great line and wash, so that’s what I did today. It was a lot of fun. Here is a photo…taken with my iPhone, so it’s not the best. Click on the image to enlarge.
So I quit my day job last week. I feel I’ve reached that phase of life where I can work at what matters to me, rather than just focusing on making a living. We plan to consolidate our two residences into one, our house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once we’ve gotten through the hassle of moving I am hoping to spend a lot more time painting.
I decided that a recent painting I did was appropriate for this event. It was painted from a photo I took last fall when we visited Tilghman Island. It’s 12×6 on Arches cold pressed paper. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away…wasting time…
Stay tuned… hopefully things will get interesting.
This year, thanks to a youtube video by Steve Mitchell one of my favorite online watercolor instructors, I decided to paint holiday cards for a short list of people who touched my life this year. All told I painted about 15. Each card was roughly 5×7. I had cardstock that was made from watercolor paper but the quality wasn’t good so I painted on Arches and cut to fit. Each painting was fixed to a card with small double-sided tape squares which raised the painting a tiny bit. The effect was pretty nice. It’s too bad that you can’t get good quality watercolor paper cardstock.
In Steve’s video he did what he calls spontaneous painting. This is a technique where he lays down some spontaneous washes and then adds details to turn the image into a landscape. (If you watch the video you’ll see how fascinating it is to see.) I started out trying this, but I’m just not good enough to pull it off. I fell back on my tried and true landscape painting process, which is still evolving.
One thing I was forced to do was to paint things that were different from the way they appeared in my reference materials. I wanted winter scenes, mostly snow scenes. I have some reference photos that are snow scenes but not enough, so I repainted some other scenes I’d recently done, modifying them to be snowscapes. It was fun and got me out of my engineer’s brain a bit, which is a challenge and is always good for me.
Below are photos of a few of the cards. Unfortunately I didn’t get photos of all of the finished products. Perhaps I’ll start earlier for next year.
I did a post a while back on my trip to Paris and more specifically to Giverny. I continue to find inspiration in the beautiful photographs I was fortunate enough to capture.
I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor lately, and as you know I find it very challenging, but I love it. I also believe that it has the potential to make my oil painting better (as I also said in an earlier post). I continue to believe that is true.
Recently I completed an oil painting of Monet’s Garden. I spent quite a bit of time doing it, not because I was working on it, but because I would get distracted by watercolor and then would go back to it. I did it in the studio at our mountain home, so that also slows me down since we are not there as often as I’d like.
I tried to keep this painting loose, focusing on shapes and colors, not starting from the background and painting forward as was my tendency when I started painting. Watercolor simply doesn’t allow that approach and I’m also trying to apply that limitation to oils. I think it makes my work more impressionistic.
I have to admit, it’s humbling to paint a scene that was immortalized by the great Claude Monet. That said, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to stand in the place where he produced many masterpieces and to use that as an inspiration for my own interpretation.
In September we had the pleasure of enjoying a very relaxing weekend on the Maryland Eastern Shore in the little town of St. Michaels. We actually stayed at the Wade’s Point Inn, which was a few miles outside of St. Michaels, and was extremely serene and relaxing. I brought my watercolor gear with me and did some plein air painting on this beautiful property. It was very inspiring and most enjoyable. I did several sketches in my sketchbook, but I did camp out on the lawn two mornings with all of my gear to do full paintings.
The first piece I did was the morning sun shining on a point where there was a house and a small dock. This piece is 12 x 6, a size I like a lot for small panoramas.
The second piece I did was the front lawn of Wade’s Point Inn. They had a dock that several of the guests fished from, and a comfortable looking hammock in the trees. This piece is 9 x 12.
As I said in an earlier post, I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Paris to meet up with my sister and to visit some good friends who are living there. I have been enjoying doing watercolors of some of the photos I took.
One of the things we did while I was there was visit Giveny, where Monet lived out the later part of his life. We visited his home and his spectacular gardens and famous water lily pond. This was on my bucket list and it was every bit as magical and inspiring as I had hoped. I expect to be painting from the photos I took for a very long time.
Below is a shot of the garden followed by my watercolor interpretation. I tried to capture the bold color of the sky and it’s reflection in the water. It took two attempts to get this. I’m still learning the watercolor process and the approach to painting. I after a blue wash I painted the lilies followed by the water reflections and then the trees in the background. That seemed to work well.
Here is a photo of me in the garden standing on one of the famous bridges looking and feeling awestruck.
I’ve been trying to do some watercolor sketching of the many flower photos I took. Here are two from my sketchbook.
Finally, I took some lovely photos of Paris in the evening while on a dinner cruise. I only had my iPhone with me, but it does have a pretty good camera and is quite good in low light. I have attempted a watercolor cityscape from one of these photos. Unfortunately, I don’t think I captured the evening light well at all. It’s hard to get the richness of the colors as night falls in watercolor. This one begs to be done in oil, so I am going to do that soon. I will post when I’m done.