Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Fields Project concludes...

Yesterday dawned cloudless and beautiful, perfect for an airplane ride over the countryside to see the designs the "field artists" had mowed into a meadow set aside for the Fields Project. I enjoyed seeing the designs (you can see part of the Origami Cow in the upper left), but I found myself more fascinated with the patterns of green, dotted with tiny white farm buildings -- so many different greens!

Our schedule took us to a dairy farm this time, where pale yellow buildings stood out boldly against the sky.
Our farm hostess hung quilts for us artists, and five of us took positions around the grounds to incorpoarte the quilt patterns into the scene. It's been quite enjoyable working with the other artists, who, like me, have come from other parts of the country.
Tonight all the artists and the farm families with whom we've been staying will gather for a picnic, and tomorrow the Fields Project will conclude with a show of our work. I'm looking forward to seeing my family here in a few hours. My husband flew into Chicago last night, and he, my son (who lives in Chicago) and my son's girlfriend will drive out here to see the sights and get a "farm fix."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fields Project, Continued....

Sometimes it takes a while to get your bearings when you're painting in an unfamiliar place. That has certainly been the case for me this week. I just hadn't been satisfied with anything I'd done because I didn't really know what it was I wanted to paint....until today. When I started seeing farm buildings as BIG GEOMETRIC SHAPES against a field of blue, I knew that was it, that was my subject!

These wonderful iconic red barns overlook a sea of golden wheat. So we were surrounded by primary colors: red, blue, yellow. The barns' owner, a gracious hostess who plied us artists with coffee and homemade fudge, told us her family has owned and worked this farm since 1830 -- about as far back as Illinois' original settlement goes.

As you can tell from these watercolors, the day was magnificent! Painting outdoors under big, shady oaks, a cool breeze and a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds is about as close to heaven as it gets.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More about the Fields Project

Tremendous thunderstorms pounded northwestern Illinois all day today, so I hung out at my hosts' house and worked from the images I had downloaded to my laptop from previous days' photo jaunts.

Above, the Rock River, which flows through the town of Oregon, IL. This is the site of the Black Hawk Indian War, the last Indian war fought east of the Mississippi and another shameful episode in American history. Deprived of their traditional hunting grounds when they were pushed into Iowa territory in 1830, the people of the Sauk and Fox tribes, led by Chief Black Hawk, crossed back over the river to hunt, fish and thereby save themselves from starvation. They were met by U.S. Army troops who slaughtered them. Today Lorado Taft's sculpture, the "Eternal Indian" marks the site of this sad event.

This is a scene along one of the county roads I've been roaming each day. Because of all the rain this area has had, everything is lushly green, green, green. I find myself mixing every combination of blues and yellows imaginable to try to replicate the intense emeralds I see.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Fields Project continued.......

Tuesday dawned cloudy and cool -- a good day for photographing wildflowers -- so I headed out to the Nachusa Grasslands, a 3000-acre native tallgrass prairie owned and maintained by the Nature Conservancy. The end of June is the height of wildflower season on the prairie. This is kind of landscape the emigrants to Oregon Territory saw when they headed west in their prairie schooners. The immense QUIET out on the Grasslands is balm to this city girl's soul.
When thunderheads showed up on the horizon, I headed back to my car where I could paint from the hatch of my Subaru Outback -- a pleasant makeshift studio as long as the wind didn't blow rain or mosquitoes in.

Here's a view of the eastern boundary of the Nachusa Grasslands under a glowering sky, in ink and watercolor.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Fields Project, Continued....

Monday began with a breakfast meeting in the town library, where a local historian presented the story of sculptor Lorado Taft, who founded the Eagle's Nest artist colony here in Oregon, IL
Made up of art faculty at the Art Institute and the University of Chicago, the colony painted here every summer from 1898 until 1942. Keeping this artistic heritage alive is one of the goals of the Fields Project.

One of the things the Fields Project committee does to meet that goal is to arrange painting trips for the artists to working farms. So later that morning, our group of artists met to paint at Stone Corner Farm, one of the few remaining vegetable growers in the area. The day started under a pleasant overcast, but by 10:30 the clouds had dissipated and we had full sun beating down on us. The vegetables loved it, but I had to beat a retreat to the shade, ending the morning with just this one small study from the garden.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Fields Project

I am one of eight artists selected to participate in The Fields Project in Oregon, Illinois, a nine-day program that brings artists from all over the U.S. to paint the countryside, fostering connections between art and agriculture.

It took me two very long, very hot days to drive here, arriving on Saturday just in time for the welcoming party hosted by the Fields Project committee.
I headed out Sunday morning under a slow, cool drizzle, so my painting start was tentative.....a quick study of morning glories followed by a dash back to the car.
The sky stayed overcast, but that just made the greens more intense. Lots of rain in recent weeks has turned all the crops -- mostly corn and soybeans -- shades of emerald and lime. And in the midst of all this: quiet, blessed quiet. The trilling of birds and frogs is the only sound around.
By afternoon the sun came out and sent me seeking shade. Outdoor -- "plein aire" -- painting in the hot and muggy summers they get here in the Midwest can get you stewing in your own juices. Lowden Park, catching the cooling breeze off the Rock River and full of shade and water fountains, was a life-saver.
I ended the day with this study of a dynamic doorway in a barn not too far from the farm I'm staying at. The white roofs of farm buildings against the blue skies and green fields are breathtaking; I hope to paint more of them as the week unfolds.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Illustrated Journaling in the Smokies

The Bascom Art Center in Highlands, North Carolina, was the scene for my first summer session of "The Illustrated Journal in Ink & Watercolor," held June 10-12, 2010.

Students work on their journals in one of the classrooms at The Bascom.

I give a lesson in how to work "wet-in-wet" with watercolor.

Highlands is a lovely little mountain town, with charming shops, nestled in the southern edge of the Smoky Mountains.

We sketched all over the campus, then retreated to RainWater, a mountain-top, parklike setting where a group of homes will eventually be built.

The view from there was awesome!
Student sketches the Smoky Mountains under a sky filled with rain.

But soon those clouds you see in the distance brought thunder, lightning and heavy rain, prompting our retreat.

This was my first time at The Bascom, and I found it to be a delightful place to teach. I'll be going back in October, to teach an advanced class in Illustrated Journaling, "MORE Journaling in Ink & Watercolor."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Eight wonderful students joined me at the Spruill Center for the Arts this past weekend to learn how to create personal illustrated journals. One of the students, Dave Terry, posted a very nice overview of the class, as well as the great sketches he did, on his blog. Check it out here: Thank you Dave! Here they all are at the local nature center, sharing the day's work at the end of class:

It's such a joy to teach these illustrated journaling classes. I'm already looking forward to the next one, at The Bascom, an art center in the lovely mountain town of Highlands, NC.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Article selected for "The Painter's Keys"

I was very pleased to discover today that my article was selected for inclusion in Robert Genn's April 16 online letter to artists on his "The Painter's Keys" website. This was a very nice honor, as Genn has thousands of readers around the world and only includes 10 letters in each post. To any of my readers who aspire to paint, I highly recommend The Painter's Keys.
Here's what I wrote:

"I teach a workshop, "The Illustrated Journal in Ink & Watercolor," that speaks directly to this issue. In it I show students how to make quick watercolor and ink sketches that record moments in their lives. The students think they're learning techniques for travel sketching -- and indeed they are -- but I know what's happening is much more than this; they're learning how to paint. The results are always so much better in these sketching classes than in my more formal painting classes. Why? Because the students are relaxed (after all, it's just a "sketch" not a "painting") and absorbed in filling page after page with small studies, done from direct observation. They're drawing and coloring intuitively, with joy. When they come up for air, they seem surprised they've been having so much fun and that their tiny paintings are so expressive and charming. Apparently that's myelin in action, accompanied by intense, deep learning. I can't say enough about the value of doing lots and lots of small paintings, and I keep trying to pass that on to students. Some years ago, International Artist published a great book, Work Small, Learn Big: Sketching with Pen & Watercolor -- now, sadly, out of print, but still available in librairies -- that makes this same point. And online groups like SketchCrawl ( and Urban Sketchers (, that encourage artists of all levels to get out and sketch, are creating an international community of like-minded folk. So, there's a lot of momentum, for this, Robert, and I'm glad to hear medical science is backing this up."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alabama Sojourn

Last week I taught an "Illustrated Journaling" class to a wonderful group of students at the Alabama Folk School. An hour northwest of Birmingham, the Folk School is part of Camp McDowell, an Episcopal camp and conference center nestled in 1100 acres of forests, canyons and waterfalls. Our weekend there took place under sunshiny skies of unfolding spring -- everything was in bloom!

As soon as the students had learned the basics of watercolor sketching -- drawing in pencil, ink ing the drawing, adding watercolor -- we headed outdoors, down a nearby trail to the creek. While the students busied themselves with small studies, I crept off to a shady spot to sketch the cliff face above the creek. Just as I finished, a gaggle of middle-schoolers set off in a flotilla of canoes. Here was a challenge! a dozen boats floating quickly past while turning in every direction imaginable as the children worked to get them under control. I had to draw fast to capture just one pair of them.

When the students were ready to paint landscape I presented a sketching lesson using photographs, (the scene above is Wyoming, not Alabama....), so they could learn how to simplify before confronting the real thing.

Once we were outdoors, I demonstrated again, sketching the woods outside our classroom. By summer, when I will return to the Folk School to teach drawing, these woods will be bursting with green. I can't wait to go back there and sketch!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Selected Artist: The Fields Project!

Selection from one of my illustrated journals

I have just learned that I have been selected as a participating artist in "The Fields Project" June 19 - 27. Located in the scenic Rock River hill country near Oregon, Illinois, The Fields Project is a week-long event that "focuses public attention on art, agriculture and our natural resources while creating new relationships between artists, farmers, environmentalists and educators." I'll be staying with a farm family and painting all over the area. At the end of the project I'll be showing what I have done in a Fine Arts & Crafts Festival that brings participating and local artists and the community together for a day of celebration. For a city girl like me who has never spent time in a farming community, this promises to be a great experience. Cows, horses, tractors, corn, grass and wonderful, friendly Mid-westerners -- what fun!

Selection from one of my illustrated journals

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Winter out West; Spring down South

"December Evening," acrylic gouache on panel, 18 x 24

One more painting of winter on the Colorado Great Plains before SPRING bursts out here in the Deep South, and I just have to paint it! This is from photos I took while we were in Colorado in December. I like the bold composition of this; it expresses some of the big, free, open feeling I get when I'm out there.

Meanwhile, spring is upon us here in the Deep South. We got a good taste of it last weekend when we spent a couple lazy days at the beach on Cape San Blas, Florida. Here's a quick sketch done on the dock at the Old Saltworks Cabins where we often stay:

This is a view of the bay; the ocean is behind me, across the road that runs the length of Cape San Blas. Here's a sketch from a few years ago:

It's an amazing beach -- startlingly white, clean sand and very few people any time of year! We like going in March when the sun is warm, the air chill, and it's comfortable to walk beach any time of day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Upcoming journaling workshops!

Sample page from Marilynn's illustrated journal at Lake Superior

I was delighted to learn that my illustrated journaling workshops are filling up. My workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina is full, with a waiting list, but there are still a few places available in the workshop at The Alabama Folk School. Here's the scoop:

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell, Nauvoo, AL, 205-387-1806
For the traveler, landscape painter, gardener--anyone who wants to record what they see and experience in a personal watercolor journal. You'll learn 6 skills: simplify your subjects, render them quickly in pencil, enhance your drawings with ink, add color with watercolor washes, design your sketchbook pages, and incorporate words into each page's design. We will work from real life and your photographs. Activities will include demonstrations, in-class exercises, and outdoor excursions circumstances permitting. Basic drawing skills are recommended for this class; however, even students who have very little drawing experience can create very charming journals.

I'm offering a weekend version of this workshop at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Atlanta May 8 & 9, and a 3-day at the Bascom Art Center in North Carolina June 10-12. Details are on my 2010 Workshop Schedule.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Inclusion in in "A Prairie Journal"

"Autumn in the Tallgrass," watercolor on panel, 12 x 16

I'm very pleased to report that several paintings from my new Plains & Prairies series, accompanied by a short essay, have been selected for inclusion in the winter issue of A Prairie Journal, an online journal "dedicated to providing a creative forum for writers and artists whose work reflects our relationship with the prairie and related landscapes -- the complex network of grasses and wildflowers, oak savannas, wetlands and the wildlife they shelter." My work is under "Artwork: Tallgrass Autumn." I included the artwork in an earlier post on this blog. The image above is one of three that was published in the journal.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

December in Colorado

More paintings of the prairie......

Sunset on the grasslands, near Greeley. Ink and watercolor.

Big sky at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, north of Denver. Ink and watercolor.

Sunset near Pawnee Buttes National Grassland. Ink and watercolor.

My husband Al and I went back to Colorado the week after Thanksgiving to try out the area's wintery weather to be sure this is where we want to retire. We got winter a-plenty, with snow and temperatures in the 'teens, but the landscape was so beautiful we just bundled up like the locals and headed outdoors.

While we were in the Fort Collins area, we visited the headquarters of Judson's Art Outfitters, the company that specializes in supplies for plein aire artists -- that is, artists who paint outdoors, from nature. We got to meet owner Carl Judson, who gave us a tour of the store and the workshop where he designs the Guerilla Painter artist boxes. Here's the cozy store, full of goodies for outdoor painters:

And here's one of Carl's ingenious boxes. This is a Guerilla Thumbox -- Mine! And all ready for action. This is what I use on the road, when I've got to paint something a little more involved than a sketch. Mine's set up for watercolor.

This was a fruitful trip. I'll have more paintings to show shortly. Stay tuned.