Farm to Canvas Plein Air Painting Workshop

The location for this workshop is very special to me because this was my childhood home! Our family enjoyed ten blissful years on this idyllic farm, and it is an absolute dream come true that the current owners are welcoming me back to their property to teach a workshop. Golden Well Farm and Apiaries will be hosting us and providing a chef catered farm-to-table lunch each day, featuring food grown here on this property. Make sure to bring your swimsuit because there is a beautiful river running right across the front yard!

Sign up here

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Locals all know of the “Old Nash Farm” and it’s rich history as a working farm that has nurtured generations of different families who lived here. It’s newest incarnation as Golden Well Farm and Apiaries promises that the legacy of wholesome farm family fun will continue! The best part is that we can all take part through the community minded events they are offering, including a CSA, a summer camp, and yoga classes.

IMG_4467In this workshop I will be teaching a traditional approach to landscape painting as it was taught to me by my mentors at the Hudson River Fellowship. I will be referencing the methods and techniques of 19th century landscape painters. Beginners and experienced painters alike are welcome, and I will be tailoring instruction to meet each individual’s goals and needs. Topics I will address are:

  • how to set yourself up for success given the specific challenges of painting outdoors (changing light, weather, and time limitations)
  • how to choose a compelling subject and composition
  • how to create an underpainting that will be a strong foundation for your work
  • using pencil sketches and written notes to aid in developing your work back in the studio
  • how to use color, atmosphere, and line quality to create a sense of depth
  • how to capture a fleeting moment in a tiny sketch and later develop that idea in the studio without using photographs
  • tips for staying comfortable and happy while working outdoors!

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WORKSHOP SCHEDULE

Friday: 

8:00 –  Meet at the farmIMG_2193

8:30 – Introduction and demonstration of how to begin a painting, choosing a subject, creating thumbnail sketches, working out a composition, and making an underpainting.

10:00 – Students will take time to choose a subject and start their own thumbnail sketches

12:30 – Chef catered farm-to-table lunch provided by Golden Well Farm and Apiaries

1:30 – Students will continue working on their paintings while receiving individual instruction throughout the afternoon. 

3:00 – end of class, swimming in the river! Students are free to continue working on their own.

Saturday:

8:00 – Meet at the farm

8:30 – Demonstration of full color painting focusing on foreground objects.

10:00 Students choose a new subject to paint for this day

12:30 – Chef catered farm-to-table lunch provided by Golden Well Farm and Apiaries

1:30 – Students will continue working on their paintings while receiving individual instruction throughout the afternoon. 

3:00 – end of class, swimming in the river! Students are free to continue working on their own.

Sunday:

8:00 – Meet at the farm

8:30 – Demonstration of full color painting focusing on a long-view scene with skies and distance

10:00 – Students choose a new subject to paint for this day

12:30 – Chef catered farm-to-table lunch provided by Golden Well Farm and Apiaries

1:30 – Students will continue working on their paintings while receiving individual instruction throughout the afternoon. 

3:00 – end of class, swimming in the river! Students are free to continue working on theirIMG_2698.jpg own.

LOGISTICS

When:  July 8,9 & 10. 8 AM – 3 PM

Where: Golden Well Farm and Apiaries, 1089 River Road, New Haven, VT

Cost: $450 per person. Includes 3 chef catered lunches. Early bird special: $400 before May 1st.

Lodging: Rent a room on the farm through Airbnb (choose from room one, room two, or room three). OR pitch a tent in the field for $20/night (includes breakfast and facilities). Other local options can be found in Middlebury.

Sign Up: and pay online here, or email me if you have questions: emlee7@gmail.com. I will send a packing list for gear and materials list to confirmed students.

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March & April Class Schedule

I started teaching at my new studio in Burlington’s South End Arts District two months ago and it’s been so much fun to feel the momentum pick up as more people join the classes. I love being able to share my space with other artists and I am excited to continue! Class size is limited to 5 students at one time, allowing me to work one-on-one with each student to meet their needs. In May I will start offering outdoor painting classes along Burlington’s waterfront where we have some incredible views across Lake Champlain. Stay tuned, spring is around the corner!

TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

IMG_8519I believe that drawing and painting are skills that can be learned through a logical approach and consistent practice. The foundation of good painting is strong drawing, and in my teaching I emphasize observation from life to achieve accurate representation of form and structure. By limiting variables such as color, light, and movement in a controlled studio environment, students can develop confidence in their drawing skills before progressing to more complex subjects, materials, and working conditions. This approach is inspired by the academic curriculum followed by many of the western art tradition’s great masters. Class size is limited to five students to ensure plenty of time for individual instruction and instructor demonstrations.

DRAWING 101: CAST DRAWING AND BARGUE COPIES.

Choose between Mondays & Thursdays 5:30-8:30 PM or Thursdays 9:00 AM – Noon. 

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This is the traditional place to begin with your classical art education. New students will start with exercises from the late 19th century Bargue-Gerome drawing course and then progress to drawing from white plaster casts of Michelangelo’s David (eye, ear, nose, mouth.) We will practice the block-in method, comparative measuring, and form modeling while gaining an understanding of optical illusions and value structure. Because the casts are white, inanimate, and set under stable light conditions, we eliminate many of the dynamic challenges of live figure drawing. Working with the casts will strengthen your observational skills and give you the tools to improve your drawing and painting in all other applications.

New student trial offer: one class for $30, no commitment. To continue, I ask that you commit to at least 4 sessions.

COPYING THE MASTERS: INTRO TO LANDSCAPE PAINTING. SATURDAYS, 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM until May 1st, then we will be painting outside during this time slot! 

IMG_2016In this class, we will be copying master landscape paintings by artists such as Sanford Gifford, Frederick Church, and Ivan Shishkin. Master copies are a great way to learn what makes a successful painting – strong composition, organized value structure, color palette, and expressive brushwork can all be considered while working closely with the works of these iconic landscape painters. This class is good for inexperienced painters and experts alike. If you are a beginner, you will learn a method for developing a painting using an underpainting, palette organization, paint handling, and materials. We may also do some color and value mixing exercises as needed. Again, because of small class size, I am able to tailor this class to the needs of each student.

New student trial offer: first class for $30, no commitment. To continue, I ask that you commit to at least 4 sessions.

SPECIAL ONE DAY WORKSHOP: MAKE YOUR OWN PANELS AND SUPPORTS. MARCH 19 1:30-5 PM 

20x16In this one day workshop I will demonstrate some of the methods and materials I use to create supports for painting and drawing. Learn how to:

-Build your own archival painting panels out of Dibond or Birch, with raw linen, pre-primed linen, or no linen and just gesso.

– Make cradles for larger panels

– Stretch and prime a gallery-wrapped linen canvas

– Make your own toned paper for drawing and water based media using a variety of materials: graphite powder, shellac, PVA size, ink, and hand made watercolor

– Make your own toned paper for painting – a very economical option for painting supports!

Each student will go home with a 6″x9″ dibond panel and a piece of toned drawing paper to experiment with.

Cost: $45

EXTENDED POSE PORTRAIT DRAWING, TUESDAYS 5:30 PM – 8:30 PM March 22 – April 26 

IMG_4321In this class, a live model will hold the same pose for three sessions (that’s 9 hours!) We just finished the first three sessions of this class, and I am so impressed with how far these students were able to take their drawings given the extended pose. This is a rare opportunity since most life drawing classes focus on the quick gesture drawings or at most 20-30 minute poses. In this class you will learn how to develop a portrait drawing using the block-in method, comparative measurements, and form modeling. Anatomy, abstract shape-finding, optical illusions, and value structure will be discussed. Painting will also be introduced to those who feel ready. This class is fine for beginners too!

New student trial offer: one class for $30, no commitment. $250 for 6 week session.

To sign up for a class please email me: emlee7@gmail.com

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New Classes in Vermont

In the end of October, I moved to Burlington Vermont, an hour north of my home town. I’ve spent the past seventeen years traveling and living all over the country, seven of them in New York City. In the end, there’s no place like home and I am thrilled that I finally feel ready to put roots down in the community where I grew up. I have a nice big studio in Burlington’s vibrant South End Arts District at the Brickworks space on Pine Street. Starting this Saturday, I’ll be teaching two new classes! I am excited to grow my teaching practice and offer some plein-air workshops in the warmer months, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here are two good classes to get us through the cold winter:

Intro to Landscape Painting: COPYING THE MASTERS. Jan 2-20, Saturdays, 9:30AM-12:30PM $250

 

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Example of a master copy (on the right) of an Ivan Shishkin Painting. 

In each session, artists will choose from a selection of master paintings to copy in grisaille, limited palette, or full color. This is an ideal workshop for those who have little or no experience painting outdoors. Without the added challenge of changing light conditions, inclement weather, and location access, we will be able to focus on developing a logical approach to landscape painting in a controlled environment that can later be applied to actual plein-air painting.

By copying existing paintings, we will learn how a successful painting has been composed and how to approach complex subjects such as foliage, moving water, forest interiors, and clouds. We will focus on identifying value hierarchy while looking for elements of design and composition. Besides being an extremely helpful way to prepare the artist to work outdoors, this exercise will train your eye to be more efficient at recognizing values independently from their color, and giving you more control and organization on your palette.  Think of this as “pre-season training” for landscape painting! When spring arrives, we will be ready to take what we’ve learned from the masters and apply it to the living landscape.

Artists will complete one copy in each studio session. Among the artists we will be focusing on are Ivan Shishkin, Frederick Church, Sanford Gifford, William Trost Richards, and Albert Bierstadt. Artists will be welcome to add to this list or bring in their own ideas for master copies.

EXTENDED POSE PORTRAIT DRAWING, Tues/Thurs 5:30-8:30 PM Jan 5 – 21 $230

During this six-session class, students will spend three sessions on each portrait drawing. Working from a live model, students will have generous time to develop their drawing from a loose block-in using a comparative measurement technique to a fully rendered portrait. Issues of proportion, anatomy, form, and structure will be addressed through individual critiques and instructor demonstrations. This class will be offered again in February with the option to paint in oils.

All classes are held at the Brickworks Art Studios, 266 Pine Street, across the street from Conant Lighting and behind New England Flooring and Tapna Yoga.


 

NO PLACE LIKE HOME! Here are some pics from my first two months up here: 

Commissions, Residencies, and Good Fishing

As I write this, I am waking up on my first day at the Jentel residency in Banner, WY. I’m here for a month to work on one of my six foot wide prairie paintings, and I’m looking forward to turning off my phone, unplugging from the internet, and taking a digital detox while I focus on this amazing opportunity to paint with no distractions. Before I go, I wanted to post a quick update and share my work from the past month. I’ll post again at the end of the month before I go to the American Prairie Reserve for a week of plein air painting and research in September.

APPLETON FARMS COMMISSION, IPSWICH, MASSACHUSETTS

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This is the final painting for the Appleton Farms commission I wrote about in several of my earlier posts. The painting is 18″x11″

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This is a drawing I did on location at the farms, which provided all the detailed information I needed to complete the commission.

PLUM ISLAND COMMISSION, NEWBURYPORT, MASSACHUSETTS

I spent three days on Plum Island making studies for a commission. This is a hidden gem on the North Shore of Boston. Thirteen miles of protected sand dunes, beaches, forest, and marshes provide an important habitat for many species of migratory birds and other wildlife. There are also public beaches for surfing, swimming, and fishing. The painting I am working on depicts a sand dune in the foreground of the view from my client’s house. Below are three of the studies I made while researching different options for the commission idea. We settled on the sand dune in the end.

Plein air study for commission on Plum Island

Plein air study for commission on Plum Island

plein air study on Plum Island

plein air study on Plum Island

plein air study on Plum Island

plein air study on Plum Island

HUDSON RIVER FELLOWSHIP, WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE

After visiting Plum Island and delivering the Appleton Farm’s commission in Ipswich, I drove north to drop in on the Hudson River Fellowship. For five years in a row, I participated in this month-long painting residency, and for three years following that, I’ve tried to drop in for a few days. During these summers, I really honed my landscape painting technique, made new friends, and felt challenged by the motivated and skilled artists that this fellowship brings together. This summer, I could only manage one day, but I was grateful for that.

during one day with the Hudson River Fellowship

Painting at Jackson Falls was pure bliss during one day with the Hudson River Fellowship. There’s nothing like taking a break from painting to jump in the cold water and pick wild blueberries!

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It was a treat to paint with my friends Leeana Chipana and Mary Jane Ward atop Cathedral Ledge.

Cathedral Ledge, NH

I spent many years obsessed with climbing this impressive granite cliff in North Conway. When I was 15 I climbed my first multi-pitch route here, and afterwards made a series of wood-block prints inspired by the experience. I always think of this place as one of the important creative forces in my life.

RABBIT ISLAND, LAKE SUPERIOR, UPPER PENINSULA MICHIGAN

On July 20th I went to Rabbit Island, an artist residency in Michigan’s U.P. Each year, 3-5 artists are selected to spend several weeks creating work on the 90 acre island, which is located in Lake Superior, 4.5 miles from the mainland Keweenaw Peninsula. (The deadline for 2016 applications is August 26th, by the way!) Artists live in a simple lean-to structure, cook over a coleman stove or a campfire, and create work in the outdoors. There is no running water or electricity. While I was there, I overlapped for one or more days with three of the artists – Beau Carey, a painter from New Mexico, Noam Enbar, a musican from Tel Aviv, and Josephina Munoz, an installation artist from Chile. We also did a lot of fishing, painting, projects around camp, and spent time exploring the mainland.

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I was thrilled that Beau Carey took the time to pose for me on the last day of his residency.

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On this day, I was so excited because after 8 days of hot sun and no wind, we finally got a bit of a storm!

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This is one of my favorite spots to hang out and paint along the shore. Photo by Ports Bishop.

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I love the challenge of painting these waves and the striking transparency of Lake Superior’s water.

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Gouache and graphite on watercolor paper toned with graphite powder and shellac.

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Amit Goldstein posed for me while she meditated in the shade. Painting with a live model is a form of shared meditation, and this morning was so soothing, listening to the water lap against the rocks and trying to interpret the dappled light.

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I knew that after Rabbit Island, I wouldn’t have time to work on commissions until November, so I brought one with me. I spent a few days working on it in the outdoors setting on the island, and antother 5 days working on it in a house on the mainland.

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A detail from a finished section of the Plum Island commission. I will finish this in November, so stay tuned!

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Rob and I spent a day orienting artist Josephina Munoz before leaving her alone for three weeks of total isolation.

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Catching Lake Trout out by the Huron Islands,  at some points during this trip the water was 800 feet deep!

Summer in the City

I came home a month ago after a grand adventure in the west, where I spent one month painting on the American Prairie Reserve and one week showing new work at the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Time is flying, and I’ve been busy teaching, working on a new commission, and preparing for my next trip to the prairie. Here are some highlights from the past month in New York City.

FIRST PLACE WINNER!

My painting “Fortitude” won first place at the Mills Pond House Gallery juried show. You can see this and another painting of mine “Saco River” at the gallery in Saint James, NY (Long Island) until July 22.

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Fortitiude

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Saco River

EXHIBIT IN NEW YORK CITY

These two paintings are in an upcoming juried show at the National Association of Women Artists. 80 5th Ave, New York, NY. July 8-29. Opening reception is July 16, 5-7 PM

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Portrait Study

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Ball Mason

NEW ONLINE STORE

I came home to my studio and couldn’t find enough room to hang up my latest paintings from the prairie, so it’s time for a spring clearance sale. In the past I’ve sold my work through emails and Facebook connections, so I hope this new store will help make the process more efficient.

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TEACHING IN CENTRAL PARK

We managed to dodge the frequent thunderstorms for my Tuesday plein-air painting classes in Central Park, but for the workshop last weekend the weather caught up with us. Despite the rain we had a productive weekend and everyone made great paintings!

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These two paintings were done by students in my class

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staying dry under the terrace

APPLETON FARMS

Commissions like this are a dream. One of the shareholders at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA, asked me to make a painting of this very special place. The farm was founded in 1636 and operated by the Appleton family until 1967 when it was acquired by a local conservation organization. It is the oldest continuously operating farm in America, producing dairy products, beef, and produce. Sustainable farming practices ensure that the landscape also provides a safe habitat for wildlife and birds. I spent two days working on location and have since been finishing the final painting in the studio.

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BACK TO THE PRAIRIE

From August 15 – September 15 I’ll be in Wyoming at the Jentel Artist’s Residency where I’ll be working one of my big studio paintings inspired by my time on the American Prairie Reserve. Jentel is located in the Bighorn Mountains, just five hours south of the Prairie Reserve, and offers writers and artists a quiet place to focus on their work. They don’t even have cell or internet service, I can’t wait! After the residency is finished, I’ll be driving north to the Prairie Reserve for a week of plein air painting in mid September. It will be interesting what this landscape is like in a completely different season.

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RECENT PUBLICATIONS

An essay I wrote for Alpinist Magazine’s fiftieth issue can be read online as well as in print. The Dumpster Diaries, Then and Now  reflects on an adventure I wrote about for the Alpinsit ten years ago. It involves climbing, art, and the Trader Joe’s dumpster. Read the original 2004 article here. An article I wrote about my ongoing project on the American Prairie Reserve was published in the RISD XYZ spring/summer issue, free to read online here.

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The Mountainfilm Experience

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opening night at my gallery exhibit

After spending three weeks on the American Prairie Reserve in quiet isolation, I was joined by photographer Eugenie Frerichs and composer Jessica Kilroy. Jessica was making field recordings on the prairie to use in a musical composition, and Eugenie was documenting our work. For several days it rained so hard that the roads became thick with slippery “gumbo” clay and impossible to navigate, delaying our departure by an extra day. Even then the prairie gave us a challenging escape through axel deep mud, our vehicles fishtailing down the road for twenty miles until we reached the highway. Three hundred miles later, we were in Bozeman for some quick meetings, then we set off for another 800 miles to the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival where I had the honor of being the artist in residence this year.  After an all night drive which included some fun surprises like a flat tire, we arrived in Telluride on May 20th just in time to kick off the weekend festivities at an event where I gave a presentation about my work. From May 22-26 I had over 25 of my paintings and drawings from the prairie on view in an exhibit at the Stronghouse gallery. Jessica Kilroy’s audio installation allowed visitors to listen to a loop of music she composed that incorporated the sounds of meadowlarks, rabbits, prairie dogs, and percussion made with bones and rocks.

In Telluride was initially overwhelmed by the crowds after having been alone on the prairie for so many weeks, but after a few days my social skills were revived and I felt energized, uplifted and inspired by my interactions at this amazing festival. Mountainfilm brings together incredible stories about social and environmental activism, as well as outdoor adventure. The lineup of films, talks, book readings, art exhibits, performances, and parties was non-stop and I found myself among an incredible crowd of aspirational people using their talents to discover and define stories that matter. While many films had impact, the one I personally found to have the most critical message was Racing Extinction, which will arrive in theaters later this summer and should not be missed. The acidification of our oceans, alarming rate of species loss in the Anthropocene era, what this means for the future of the human race, and, most importantly, ways we can address the issue as individuals, is profound and I came away from this film with a renewed commitment to use my work to celebrate relevant conservation efforts.

With that being said, I received an incredible reception at my gallery opening and was reminded of how much my work has already stood in the service of ambitious conservation projects and how it influences people’s appreciation of wildness. Several visitors told me how my paintings made them feel at ease, which I took as a sign of success, since this is one of the primary emotions I felt on the prairie, and one of the ideas I wish to express through my work. I returned to New York City excited to move to the next stage of my project–six foot wide paintings of the prairie landscape–that will document on canvas this remarkable social and environmental effort.

Since my last newsletter I’ve had a number of exciting opportunities to write about my work. These can be seen on the National Geographic Explorers blogAdventurers and Scientists for Conservation blog, the RISD XYZ magazine (in print), the latest Alpinist Magazine (in print), and on Telluride Inside & Out. To see a full list of articles and events where I’m sharing my work, please visit my home page.

REMINDERI am teaching plein air painting in Central Park starting this Tuesday! This class meets every tuesday afternoon for the next 8 weeks. Additionally I am teaching two weekend workshops — June 27-28 and July 11-12. You can learn more and sign up on the Grand Central Atelier website.

 

MOUNTAINFILM PORTRAITS

In addition to sharing my prairie project, I sat down with Mountainfilm contributors to paint these portraits from life. Each one took 2-3 hours, you can read more about this project here. 

 

Capturing the Sounds of the Prairie with Jessica Kilroy

For three weeks, I was alone out here on the American Prairie Reserve before I was joined by photographer Eugenie Frerichs and musician Jessica Kilroy. I first met Jessica at the Rabbit Island Residency in 2013 where she was recording sounds in nature to use in a piece of music she was composing. When one morning I saw Jessica’s smiling face emerge from a cold wet bivouac after a miserable night of rain, I knew we would be a great match if we ever worked together on a creative project. She has a unique set of strengths derived from her diverse experiences as a touring musician, songwriter, composer of film scores, wilderness guide, hotshot firefighter, rock climber, and high angle wind power technician. She’s capable and tough, with a can-do attitude and an ambitious creative spirit.

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photo by Eugenie Frerichs

We started chatting about the prairie six months ago, tossing around ideas about the kind of inspiration we might find out here for painting and music. I had never been to Montana, so my expectations were formed by youtube videos and online research, but Jessica is a Montana native and I thought that her interpretations of the place and it’s spirit would be undeniably authentic. Together, we decided on a vision for a gallery exhibit with my paintings on the wall and Jessica’s music filling the air.

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photo by Eugenie Frerichs

During my three weeks painting alone, the importance of the prairie soundscape has become even more apparent to me. Each morning I’ve been waking at dawn and driving a few miles out into the open grasslands with my morning coffee. These peaceful hours have been filled with the songs of meadowlarks, owls, and coyotes. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, crickets join the chorus and wind whistles through the grass. The day slips by while I’m lost in concentration at my easel, but the sounds of the prairie have been a constant companion. When darkness comes, the wind dies down and the bass notes of frogs fill the air. It truly is a remarkable experience to enjoy a place so free of human-generated noise.

When Jessica arrived, she hit the ground running and captured a rich variety of sounds, including birdsong, a rabbit thumping it’s foot, percussion made with rocks on the gumbo clay, cricket chirps, and an owl. She is using these to create rhythms that will accompany vocals and instrumentation in a song inspired by the prairie. By the end of this visit, Jessica will have a track recorded to share with my paintings at Telluride Mountainfilm on May 22 at the Stronghouse Gallery. However, this is just the beginning of a larger vision she has to produce a whole album of songs that weave together sounds recorded on the American Prairie Reserve with lyrics and music inspired by this landscape. Her work will highlight the importance of an unpolluted natural soundscape and the role of audio frequencies in a healthy, balanced ecosystem. A portion of the proceeds from album sales will go towards the American Prairie Reserve. When exhibited together, my paintings and Jessica’s music will give the viewer an immersive experience in the prairie. Ultimately, this work will celebrate the significance of this unique moment in conservation history and inspire a new appreciation for this iconic American landscape.

You can follow the progress of Jessica’s work and learn more about soundscapes on her websitesoundcloud, and  Instagram. To hear some recording of her previous work under her band names pterodactyl plains and Flitcraft follow those links.

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Using portable field recording equipment, Jessica Kilroy records sounds like these rocks to use in her musical compositions. Photo by Eugenie Frerichs

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High in a cottonwood, Jessica Kilroy capturing the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind. Photo by Eugenie Frerichs

Since my last post, I’ve finished a few more paintings to share. Coming up next, I’ll be talking about this project and my influences at Twenty (by) Telluride this Wednesday night at the Sheridan Bar. On May 22, Jessica and I will be at the Stronghouse gallery in Telluride during the Mountainfilm gallery walk.

In addition to sharing my work at Mountainfilm, I make an appearance in one of the films that is premiering at this festival: Rabbit Island, filmed and directed by Ben Moon, tells the story of an artist’s residency in Lake Superior founded and run by my partner Rob Gorski. Jessica Kilroy’s field recordings are featured in the film and we will be there to see it May 23rd at 3:15 PM and May 24 at 9:15 AM at the Nugget Theater.

 

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Prairie Plein Air

It’s hard to believe I have only nine days left out here on the prairie. I’ve been enjoying some quiet time alone, observing the daily changes as spring brings new life to this landscape.

Tonight I have more images than words to share, so I’ll tell my stories through my most recent artwork. Click on the images to see a larger version.

Inspiration In The Wide Open

Sunset Color Study, 8x10, oil on linen

Sunset Color Study, 8×10, oil on linen

I’ve been drawn to the big open skies and the feeling of distance in my paintings here, but the real challenge has been deciphering the characteristics of the sage brush and grass that plays a role in every scene here. When it comes to the studio phase of this project, I imagine a richly textured foreground in my large paintings, with accurate representation of different plant species and ecosystems. I’m thinking of Andrew Wyeth and Albrecht Durer … it is fun to imagine how these artists would paint here. In the painting to the left, I have some good color notes, and when combined with accurate drawings, this type of study will be extremely helpful in bringing my idea to life on the large canvas in the studio.

Snow Flurries, Andrew Wyeth, 1953

Snow Flurries, Andrew Wyeth, 1953

Speaking of inspirations, Wyeth has been on my mind a lot. I love how he takes a mundane subject and imbues it with such weight and power. For instance this hill, looming in front of the viewer, gives me an ominous yet excited feeling about what lies beyond the horizon. I was thinking of this painting when I stopped to paint the above Sunset Color Study, and how intriguing I find the subtle topography here.

On my long walks and runs across the prairie, I am starting to notice which scenes really light up my imagination. There are the wide open vistas and big skies that feel expansive and boundless, the tangled sage brush and grease wood in the foreground that allude to the wildness of this place, and the abstract simplicity of sky vs. grass. In the below painting, Prairie Swoop, I was attracted to the curve of the horizon, the swaths of color, and the gentle wisps of clouds that gesture in unison with the land.

Prairie Swoop

In my ten days out here, it’s rained a few times and the landscape has started to become green. I’ve been covering more miles hiking with the ASC Landmark research crew, and on adventurous trail runs – my favorite way to clear my head and explore new territory for painting. I have yet to make a trip into town, which is an hour away. The local radio station has been an amazing soundtrack for my drives out here – from 7 AM to 1 PM they play only Native American music, which seems to emphasize the feeling I have of being so remote. Way up here near the Saskatchewan border, between two Indian Reservations and in the middle of millions of acres of undeveloped land, this does feel like a rare oasis where the drama of nature has become the dominant presence in my life.

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Prairie Noon, 8×10, oil on linen

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Larb Hills

Larb Hills

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storms, 16×8, oil on linen

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Getting to Know the Prairie

where I am

There are 305,000 acres in all those blue sections

In my first three days on the American Prairie Reserve, I logged 24 miles of hiking and running through this vast landscape in an effort to acquaint myself with this place. Much of those miles were with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Landmark crew as I tagged along on their daily rounds. This group of volunteer researchers have been out here since March 1st traversing the landscape by foot, collecting data that is crucial to understanding wildlife populations. Covering this much ground right away and in the company of people who have a scientific perspective has been an amazing introduction for me. As we walk along, I ask questions about plant species, wildlife behavior, and the prairie ecosystem. If I was alone, much of these fascinating details would go unnoticed under my foreigner’s gaze.

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Just after sunrise on our way out after finding the Sage Grouse lek

On my first morning, I woke up at 3:30 AM to meet the crew for a pre-dawn hike in search of mating sage grouse. These birds return to the same location every year to perform an elaborate mating dance, so we were able to use a GPS system to find our way to the exact spot. There are many of these “leks” on the prairie and the crew has been checking them regularly for the past month. We split up into pairs and set off through the dark. My team had to go three miles across the prairie to find our lek and we were almost running to reach the location by sunrise. If we arrived any later, we risked missing the birds. Before we could even see them, we could hear their guttural whooping calls. We followed the sound until we saw about 30 birds in the distance, with their white chests puffed up, they looked as big as turkeys. Watching through binoculars, I could see them bouncing their chests and strutting around, while only a few females wandered close by acting uninterested. We watched them for about ten minutes and then without warning the entire group took flight and disappeared.

(This is a video I found on youtube, so you can see what I’m talking about)

My crew mates took detailed notes on the sighting, data which will be used to understand the health of the Sage Grouse population, including whether or not they should be considered an endangered species.

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Elaine and Caitlin check a camera trap they set in a spot where they saw a cougar two weeks ago. So far, the cat seems to be camera shy.

Later that day, we went out hiking again, this time to check motion sensitive camera traps to see what kind of animals have been through the area. By this time I had hiked nine miles since waking up and I was glad I had sturdy hiking boots and gaiters as we strode through the prickly pear cactus and knee high sage brush. On our way back, we found what we thought was cougar scat, which was exciting because just two weeks ago, a cougar had been seen in this area but until photo evidence exists, the cougar presence cannot be officially acknowledged.

 

what kind of prairie is this?

what kind of prairie is this? I didn’t sign up for hill hikes!

On day two, I hiked eight more miles to check camera traps and I was surprised at the variety of terrain I was discovering on the prairie. Contrary to my expectations, it wasn’t all flat ground. We were hiking up and down quite a lot and even went through a Ponderosa Pine forest and discovered some lakes. On this trek we spotted a few groups of Pronghorn and Mule Deer, crossed through a Prairie Dog town, and saw a Kestrel.

 

First Light, Prairie Peas. oil on linen

First Light, Prairie Peas. oil on linen, 4/22/15

I’ve also been finding time to paint. In the early morning from 6 – 8 AM, the light is magical and the meadowlarks are singing. It’s a little cold, but I am loving these peaceful hours spent alone with the wind and the grass, soaking in all the details. This quiet time in a remote landscape is such a gift, when I’m out there all my anxieties are gone and I just think about how lucky I am to be present in this place.

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First Sunset on the Prairie, oil on linen 4/20/15

The time spent covering ground with the research crew has been incredibly valuable. Now when I approach my paintings, I’ll know a lot more about the landscape and I’ll pay attention to the subtle differences in ecosystems that exist all across this region. I’ve also seen some spots that I know I’ll return to paint, like the early morning lek trek, which left an impression on my memory. I’d like to take my tent and spend a few days working out there. It’s only day 4, and I’m feeling pretty inspired out here. I’ll try to keep up with the blogging and share as much as I can along the way.  Thanks for following along – Emilie

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