Painting with George Nick

Friday through Sunday I participated in a Master Class with George Nick at the Currier Museum of Art, allegedly the first 3-day Master Class produced by the Currier. Given that the subject of the class was plein air painting, a one-day class would be hard to conduct–plein air painters spread out all over the allowed territory, which means that the instructor spends a fair amount of time just walking between locations. (I don’t know why an instructor couldn’t ask all the painters to paint the same subject, but suspect it is because part of the whole mystique of painting en plein air is the selection of subject matter, responding to the inspiration afforded by being outdoors.)

Indeed, I saw Mr. Nick at my easel only once for the first painting, twice for the second painting, once for the third painting, not at all for the fourth, and once for the fifth and last. But, in addition to being a terrific artist, he is a professional teacher, marvelously deft at giving encouragement while spotlighting the most important thing that the student needs to work on. For me, that thing seems to be detail. Less of. That is, I need to focus less on detail and more on the big shapes. Simplify? That sounds easy enough.

The “cover” photo above is George Nick holding the painting that he completed Sunday morning, not as a demo (“I don’t do demos”, he said) but as a contribution to our experience. His painting may sell for $10,000. Why on earth would he want to spend any of his time teaching?

In chronological order, here is my production, before the corrections I now see are desirable: Friday we only had a half day of painting, in Webster Park near the Currier, and I found a tree that inspired me:

It has been simplified.

Saturday morning I headed straight for the front of the museum, prepared to jostle for a good angle on the sculpture, but it turned out that all weekend, no one else chose to paint the sculpture:

At home that night, I reduced the literalness of the reflections in the windows, and found some orange paint to rectify a problem I had trying to mix a hot orange from cadmium red and azo yellow. The azo (M. Graham) was semi-transparent, the white was opaque, and I just could not get a brilliant orange using them. (But I left the detail in the roofing, which he had criticized.)

Saturday afternoon, it rained, so we deployed to the covered porches on the back of the Art Center building, one to each floor. I chose the highest and looked down on the original art center building that now serves as administrative offices:

The detail in this painting that drew Mr. Nick’s complaint was the variation in color on the clapboards of the building. He assumed I was trying to suggest the clapboards, but I wasn’t; I was just trying to make that flat expanse of color more interesting. He didn’t sound that definite about it, so I left the variations in for now. He said nothing about the purple sidewalks, or the carefully plumbed perspective. If you check out Mr. Nick’s paintings at the website link I gave you above, you may notice that he deliberately skews perspective, or so it seemed to me. But now I can also see, comparing my photo to my painting, that perspective here required more than vanishing points on a straight horizontal line. By studying George Nick’s own works and this photograph taken from above the horizon, I may have learned more than I did from my direct contact with him.

Sunday morning I returned to that porch even though the sun was out, in order to capture these roofs (Archbishop’s residence, St. Hedwig’s Church, and the Currier admin building, in order of distance:

This painting received no criticism, but I think I should straighten the lower edge of the red roof.

Finally, Sunday afternoon, with rain threatening again, I set up on the sidewalk next to the museum to paint this lovely peach-yellow and lavender Victorian house:

At the critique of my last two paintings, the word “detail” was not mentioned, so I may have improved. What I do have to fix are the trees in the background of the Victorian house. I had tried to employ a new technique taught by Peter Granucci involving the cutting in of sky holes in order to reveal the structure of the tree. I still suck at that, and Mr. Nick zeroed right in on their deficiencies. But he said my handling of the white blossoming trees in the foreground was “masterful.” Wow! I shall dine on that for a month. He also commented on the purple roofs, but not necessarily in a negative way.

Before leaving us, Mr. Nick gave us a tour of the customized vehicle that he uses to paint in comfort (and in private) through nasty weather conditions:

The roof was raised and an extra tall window installed to allow more light; the walls and ceilings were insulated to keep warmth in. Inside he can paint on a canvas as large as 40” by 40”. Pretty nice setup. I will definitely emulate him as soon as I get $10,000 for one of my paintings. I will furnish it with a step stool to help in the getting up and down.

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