Just an Update!

Spring came and went and now it is summer. I have been busy painting, teaching, and thanking my lucky stars each day that I am living in Vermont. I’ll share a quick update on what I’ve been up to and get back to it! I have an open studio event tomorrow night from 5-8 if you want to come see the latest paintings in person.   – Emilie


JUNE 24,25,26 FIGURE DRAWING WORKSHOP, BURLINGTON, VT, $325

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Morning session: 9 -12, Afternoon session: 1-4

This weekend intensive will be an introduction to academic figure drawing methods, emphasizing an intuitive approach that combines expressive drawing and comparative measurements to achieve accurate proportions and anatomy while expressing the gesture and flow of the  pose. Some warm-up exercises from the 19th century Charles Bargue drawing course and lessons in anatomy will be included. The studio is furnished with a model stand and controlled lighting. There is only room for 5 students in this class, so you will be sure to get plenty of hands-on instruction! SIGNUPHERE


JULY 8,9,10 FARM TO CANVAS LANDSCAPE PAINTING WORKSHOP,  $400

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Three days of instructed landscape painting and drawing on a 100 acre historic Vermont farm. Instruction will emphasize a logical approach to planning and executing a successful piece while considering the unique challenges of working outside. This will be a supportive environment for beginners and experienced artists alike with plenty of one-on-one instruction tailored to your goals. Swimming on the property and chef catered farm-to-table lunch provided each day! (Lodging available on the farm at extra cost). New Haven, VT. MORE INFO HERE


*Paintings in group shows this month: FOFA Art’s Alive Show at 1 Main St. Landing, Burlington, VT  June 3-27, and SEABA 404 Pine Street, Burlington, VT


* ONGOING: paintings for sale at Edgewater Gallery in Middlebury VT


Now for some pics from all the fun things I’ve been up to:

MARCH: An energizing trip to the 4-corners region to work with an inspiring crew of artists while being filmed and interviewed for Convergence Film, a project by 3 Strings Productions. Film release to be announced, so stay tuned!

APRIL: It was still winter up here. So we did some skiing and worked in the studio:

MAY: SPRING!!!! Painting outside, lots of hiking, teaching plain-air class along the lake, loving life!

 

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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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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Painting the Prairie

I am excited to announce my latest endeavor, a project that unites my interest in wilderness conservation and my love of adventure in a landscape that provides remarkable inspiration. In less than a week, I’ll be heading to Montana for a month of painting on the American Prairie Reserve (APR), a conservation area in the Great Plains that has caught my attention.  This organization is a unique voice in the field of conservation because of its creative method of merging previously-owned land into one encompassing open space. To do this, APR purchases land when it comes on the market and leases adjacent government parcels, then merges them to create a new wilderness. When it is complete, the reserve is expected to be three million acres, the largest wildlife refuge in the lower 48 states.

As an artist who has spent the past six years studying the Hudson River School painters and the world they lived in, I am interested in how my work can investigate the subject of wilderness in the context of our time. We no longer have vast expanses of undeveloped land to claim for conservation, which makes the innovative vision of the American Prairie Reserve an inspiring model for our generation. Nature’s power to reclaim the land calls to attention the impermanence of our human-built world and highlights our own vulnerability as a species. It is important to preserve these wild areas not only for biodiversity and the health of our planet, but for our own consciousness as a civilized people, a sentiment beautifully summed up in this quote:

“Wilderness is an anchor to windward. Knowing it is there, we can also know that we are still a rich nation, tending our resources as we should — not a people in despair searching every last nook and cranny of our land for a board of lumber, a barrel of oil, a blade of grass, or a tank of water.”

– Clinton P. Anderson

Former Senator, New Mexico

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I will spend my time on the prairie making drawings, notes, and plein air paintings while working with the Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Landmark wildlife research crew to gain a deeper understanding of this unique place. In September 2015 and again in the upcoming winter, I will revisit the prairie to paint the landscape in the different seasons. Over the course of the year I will be working in my studio to compose a series of five paintings, each approximately six feet in width, informed by my studies from the field. I will share the resulting body of work in a show planned for spring 2016 that will lead the viewer through an intimate investigation of the prairie with delicate botanical illustrations, sketches, handwritten notes, and large-scale oil paintings that depict the wide vistas and Montana skies. My work will depict the prairie grasslands and the effort to conserve them in the time-honored tradition of painting, forever preserving this moment in culture for posterity.

Joining me on the prairie will also be musician and native Montanan Jessica Kilroy (Roki Rej, Flitcraft, Pterodactyl Plains) who plans to record elemental sounds (wind in the grass, bird calls, thunder) to use in a musical composition that will accompany my gallery exhibit. Kilroy’s work will bring attention to the value of an unpolluted natural soundscape and add a high level sensory experience for the viewer.

During the final week of my trip, photographer Eugenie Frerichs be with us to document Jessica and I at work in the field. I’m excited to have her perspective on the project because much of her personal work as an artist and photographer explores the concept of wilderness.

Valley of the Chugwater, Sanford Robinson Gifford, 1870.

Historically, artists have played an influential part in shaping American perceptions of wilderness and its role in our national identity. I see my work as an extension of this tradition, exploring a contemporary example of wilderness conservation using a medium and a process that is identical to those of an earlier generation of artists. Among the first European explorers discovering the west were landscape painters like Thomas Moran and Sanford Robinson Gifford who recorded their findings in sketches, small paintings and journals while traversing the unknown territory beyond the Mississippi. Back in their studios, these artists created monumental paintings that glorified the pristine beauty of the American wilderness. Their work had mass cultural appeal and presented a sentimental vision of wilderness to the American people. This moment in art history became known as “The Hudson River School” and is now recognized as the first art movement to originate on American soil. Their paintings sparked the first conservation movement in this country when Moran’s depictions of Yellowstone directly influenced the creation of our first National Park.

As a senior fellow at the Hudson River Fellowship, I have spent the past six years studying this moment in art history and painting in the same Catskills and White Mountains locations where these early artists made their work. In the American Prairie Reserve, I see an opportunity to celebrate an exciting new chapter in conservation history, recognizing nature’s ability to restore itself when the right conditions are created by a group of well organized individuals. This work will inspire not only our generation but those who come after us with a message of hope from the front lines of American conservation.

 

This project is made possible with support from

Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

American Prairie Reserve

Jentel Foundation

Gamblin Artist Colors

Patagonia

*please take a moment to visit the new calendar on my website to see my upcoming schedule of artist’s talks, workshops, and exhibitions. I’m in a group show in NYC that opens next week and this summer I will be sharing my work in public presentations as an artist in residence at Telluride Mountainfilm (Telluride, CO, May 22), Jentel Foundation (Banner, WY, August) and Glen Arbor Arts Association (Glen Arbor, MI, September). I will also be teaching landscape painting workshops in Central Park, NYC in June and July.

Holiday Exhibits and More

Here in the city, the chill of winter is setting in but memories of Rabbit Island are still stoking my creative fire.  While my collection of paintings from that trip have been away at the De Vos Museum of Art exhibit, I’ve been busy working on some commissions in my studio. Recently I published another story about Rabbit Island on the Stio blog and I hope you  check it out!  As an ambassador for Stio, I share my writing on their blog throughout the year, you can find links to other articles like this on my press page.  Big thanks to Stio for keeping me warm and dry!

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Taking in the endless expanse of Lake Superior! Divide Henley by Stio.

PAINTINGS FOR SALE:

I always have small paintings for sale in my studio and I usually sell them through word-of-mouth.  If you are interested in buying something, my small paintings are all between $200- $800 (sizes range from approx 5″x7″ – 9″x12″) These are all plein air paintings that I’ve done on my travels and excursions out of the city.  Each one comes with a story behind the day I created it!  I’ve tried to organize an album of available paintings here, and I hope that before too long I’ll get a real online store up and running. Meanwhile please email me if you are interested in learning more about a painting or buying something: emilie@emilielee.com

Salmagundi Club Thumb Box Exhibition, 47 5th Ave, NYC:

November 18 – January 3. Reception is Thursday, December 5th, 6-7:30 PM.  All paintings in this show are under 108 square inches.  Here are the three paintings I’ll have in the show:

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Consternation, 8″x10″, oil on linen, 2013

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Straightforward, 8″x10″, oil on board, 2013

Afternoon Melt, oil on archival bookboard, 8"x10"

Afternoon Melt, oil on board, 8″x10″, 2013

Group Show at the First Bank of Greenwich, Cos Cob, CT.

Reception is November 20th, 5-7 PM. These paintings will be on display (and for sale) at the bank throughout the holiday season:

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Greenwich Point Park in Gray, oil on linen, 6″x10″, 2013

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Sunset from Red Hook, 5″x12″, oil on board, 2013

wave study, 8"x6" oil on linen, 2011

wave study, 8″x6″ oil on linen, 2011

Stay tuned for more exhibits coming up this holiday season!

Painting the Landscape from Memory

One of the most challenging things about landscape painting is the fast changing light conditions.  Especially at the most colorful times of day – the sunrise and sunset.  Over the past season, I had a fun time learning to paint more from my pencil sketches and my memory.  I’m committed to never using photography as a reference tool, and I found that this approach actually strengthens my observation skills.  Inevitably I never remember everything, and those gaps serve to highlight the things I don’t know, so that next time I see those things in nature, I will pay attention more closely!  I also found that the conscious act of conjuring a memory strong enough to result in a painting is a great way to clarify what kind of emotional feeling initially inspired me to paint the scene in the first place.  So here are a few of my memory paintings along with some corresponding sketches and notes.

Pale Moon, oil on canvas, 8″x6″, 2012

the quick pencil sketch I used to make the above painting “Pale Moon”

I saw this lovely moon rise scene during a dinner outside.  I was able to sneak in this quick sketch to help me remember what I saw that night.  The next day I did the painting while observing the same location in the daylight and referring to my sketch.

Midnight at Marsters Point, oil on canvas, 2012

I saw this scene when I woke up in the middle of the night.  Something about the movement of the low clouds scudding across the horizon caught me and I stayed outside a few minutes longer to take some mental notes.  I was probably too sleepy to get out my sketchbook.  In the morning I did this little painting from what I could remember.

 

Storms at Dusk, Silver Lake, oil on canvas, 2012

Storms at Dusk, Silver Lake, oil on canvas, 2012

In June I spent 10 days painting at this location on Silver Lake in Madison, NH.  I saw this happen on my last evening as I was packing my bags.  I tried to paint it from memory the same night.

 

Sunrise at Marsters Point #1, oil on board, 2012

Sunrise #1, oil on board, 2012

During the final two weeks of my summer travels I was in Desbarats, Ontario with this view of the sunrise every morning.  I got in the habit of waking early to sketch the daily light show.  The sunrise is a real slippery fish, it changes very fast, morphing into innumerable glorious and paintable moments.  I found that sketching in pencil, taking written notes, and painting from memory (choosing one moment) was the best approach.  I embarked on this series of paintings right after seeing and being inspired by Frederick Church’s sketches and memory sunset paintings at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.

I found that by making repeated attempts every day, I was able to see where the gaps in my knowledge were, and each morning I found myself trying to learn something new that I may have struggled with the day before.

Sunrise  #2. oil on paperboard, 11.5″x6″

here is the sketch I did for the corresponding sunrise painting above

Sunrise  #3, oil on canvas, 2012

I think this one goes with the last sunrise painting on this page

 

Foreground Studies Workshop … Success!

Yesterday we wrapped up a five day landscape painting workshop that I taught for the Grand Central Academy at Inwood Hill Park.  We had perfect weather and the surprisingly wild nature of Inwood provided a serene retreat from city life.  The park is 196 acres of varied terrain including Manhattan Island’s last untouched forest.  Inwood’s northern border is the shoreline of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and on the west a steep forested ridge blocks noise from the west side highway.  On top of the ridge, one can enjoy spectacular views up and down the Hudson River and of the Palisades on the opposite shore.  In the forest, cliffs and large boulders form caves once inhabited by Native Americans.  In this beautiful spot we were able to find a wide variety of subject matter.  Please click on the photo below to see the a photo album,  or if you’re on facebook, you can find a lot of pics there too.

Foreground Studies Workshop

I wanted to give students a taste of what we do at the Hudson River Fellowship, so I  planned the majority of our time focused on drawing and foreground studies.  The inspiration for this approach comes from Asher B. Durand’s 1855 letters on landscape painting, where he advises the novice to focus on drawing first:

Form is the first subject to engage your attention. Take pencil and paper, not the palette and brushes, and draw with scrupulous fidelity the outline or contour of such objects as you shall select…”

When we set ourselves up to paint a landscape, most of us are tempted to choose a wide scene that includes a huge variety of challenges.  We are forced to abbreviate everything if we want to finish the painting in a day’s work.  While this approach is also important to my process and I use it often, I believe the importance of drawing is overlooked.  The practice of slowing down and choosing smaller, less complex subjects is an eye-opening experience that will reveal the infinite complexity of nature at every level.  With this more careful approach to landscape painting, I am seeking an intimate relationship with my subject.  The practice of spending long hours observing a single object is a quest to understand it’s structure, life force, and place in the world.  For me, it inspires feelings of wonder, childlike fascination, and awe.  This is the mental/emotional space that I want to be creating art from, and when I can immerse myself in the joy of discovery like this, the hours fly by unnoticed.  When I read Asher Durand’s letters from over 150 years ago, I sense the same excitement in his words:

            “…you will be most successful in the more simple and solid materials, such as rocks and tree trunks, and after these, earth banks and the courser kinds of grass, with mingling roots and plants, the larger leaves of which can be expressed with even botanical truthfulness and they should be so rendered, but when you attempt masses of foliage or running water, anything like an equal degree of imitation becomes impracticable.
     It should be your endeavor to attain as minute portraiture as possible of these objects, for although it may be impossible to produce an absolute imitation of them, the determined effort to do so will lead you to a knowledge of their subtlest truths and characteristics, and thus knowing thoroughly that which you paint, you are able the more readily to give all the facts essential to their representation.  So this excessively minute painting is valuable, not so much for itself as for the knowledge and facility it leads to.”

If you’re finding this stuff inspirational, I suggest tracking down the unedited version of these letters, which were first published in The Crayon in 1855.  You can now find them in this book.  And here is one more quote from him that I couldn’t resist sharing:

“the study of foreground objects is worth while years of labor.  The process will improve your judgement and develop your skill – and your thought perception and ingenuity will be in constant exercise.  Thus you will not merely have observed in the rock lines angles and textures, or in the tree trunk the scoring of the surface which respectively characterize them.  You will have acquired the knowledge and skill applicable alike to every proportion of the picture.”  -Asher B. Durand 1855 Letters on Landscape Painting

Stay tuned for more workshops like this offered next year … probably some time in October before it gets too cold.  Sign up for my monthly newsletter on www.emilielee.com to receive updates about future workshops, exhibitions, and events.  Thanks!  – Emilie

New Hampshire: trip report and radio appearance.

My trip to New Hampshire was energizing and inspiring!  The “West of Washington” exhibit includes some outstanding paintings.  I spent much of Friday in the gallery talking with students and other visitors about the artwork.  I was among the people interviewed for a radio piece that will air on NHPR tomorrow night (4/27/12) between 5:30 – 6:00 PM.  Once the show airs, I’ll be able to post a link where you can listen online at any time.  The evening reception was quite busy,  I met many people who share my enthusiasm for 19th century landscape paintings and the White Mountains.  On Saturday, I met with advanced drawing students and talked about how to do master copies of the paintings in graphite and grisaille.  I was thrilled to learn that the students at Holderness have been doing some cast drawing and Bargue copies in their classes, so I spent some time discussing how we teach these things at the GCA.  Kudos to art teacher Kathryn Field for introducing these valuable exercises to her classes!  

 

Below I want to share the essay that I wrote for the show catalog:

As a student at Holderness, the White Mountains were the playground of my formative years.  It was here I experienced my first winter camping trips, learned to push myself on long mountain runs, and where I first fell in love with rock climbing.  I fearlessly threw myself into every outdoor activity that was available, exploring the rugged mountain terrain with endless fascination.  In my early twenties, the White Mountains were my regular escape from the city where I went to college.  Rock climbing was the driving passion in my life and the Whites provided an ideal environment for those challenging adventures.  I had never experienced anything more thrilling than being delicately balanced on an exposed granite cliff, high above the world, with all senses engaged, my body in top fitness, my mind calm.  This was the feeling of being wild, like an animal, in tune with my environment, aware of everything and yet completely focused at the same time.  In my mind, this was the pinnacle of human experience and I wanted to express it in my paintings.  Although this thought occurred to me more than ten years ago, it remains a defining aspect of the work I strive to create today.

As I searched for how to communicate this swell of emotions inspired by nature, I was led to study the 19th century American landscape painters who so beautifully captured the drama of wilderness in their work.  When I see these paintings of a bygone era, I am immediately transported into the scene, with all the sensory awareness of experiencing the real thing.  These artists were able to make paintings that transcend time and strike an emotional response from people of all generations.  As an artist, I am in awe of the technical control that these painters had over their work and I became convinced that this was necessary for me to develop for my own goals.

I’ve since become part of a vibrant community of like minded young artists who are passionate about reviving the techniques of these 19th century painters.  We have recognized that all great advancements in art history were born out of tight knit groups of friends working in close proximity and challenging one another.  Just as the Hudson River School painters traveled and worked together, we have created our own group, called the Hudson River Fellowship.  Each summer we spend a month painting in the places made famous by these historic painters, studying their work and learning their methods.  We are driven by a common desire to gain the level of fluency and skill that these old masters possessed.  Our guidance comes from Asher Durand’s 1855 “Letters on Landscape Painting”, in which he advises aspiring landscape painters in their endeavors.  Our top priority is to master the ability to work from life, without the use of photography.  By spending long hours in all weather conditions carefully studying nature, we strive to gain a more thorough understanding of our subject and to forge an emotional connection with the place.  This practice involves sitting still for up to six hours at a time – something that has completely changed the way I experience the outdoors.  As an athlete, I’ve always moved fast through the landscape, focused on my physical performance and viewing the terrain as a set of obstacles to overcome.  When I am painting, I am an observer, still as a rock while the landscape around me is buzzing with life.  Animals go freely about their activities without noticing me, plants seem to grow before my eyes and the activity of insects becomes fascinatingly important.  These long hours of quiet observation may be a contrast to my thrilling climbs, but the experience of losing myself in nature is very similar.  In both activities, I feel I can let go of my ego and merge with my surroundings, experiencing a level of focus and calm that is rarely accessible in today’s modern world.
Although we are approaching the landscape as contemporary artists more than 150 years later, the powerful effect that nature has on us has not changed.  By striving to follow in the tradition of the 19th century landscape painters, we are not trying to replicate a style from the past, but rather learn to use the same level of skill  and attention to detail so that we may be able to more eloquently express our own experience on this earth.

just a few of the beautiful paintings in this show

"Outing on the Lake" by Alfred Thompson Bricher

"Outing on the Lake" by Alfred Thompson Bricher

I got to go running in the woods!

and rock climbing!

Talking about the paintings with Phil Peck, the headmaster of Holderness.

Three days was not enough!  Good thing I am heading back up there soon to immerse myself in landscape painting for the summer.  The Hudson River Fellowship is going to be epic this year. My life couldn’t get any better!