Painting in the Tetons

A popular fishing and boating spot on the Teton River

A popular fishing and boating spot on the Teton River

This year I received a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland to take two workshops in Idaho and to participate in an outdoor painting competition (painting out doors is referred to as “plein air”). Both workshops were in Eastern Idaho, just a couple miles from the Wyoming border, in two small towns surrounded by National Forests and National Parks. The Tetons, which are part of the Rocky Mountain Range, loom to the East. The area is known for its hiking, fishing, climbing and, in the long, cold winter, skiing.

While I have painted plein air in the past two years during my trips to China and to Nicaragua, most of my previous subjects were  intimate reflections of scenes found within cities. Back in Portland, I have painted at Mount Tabor park, but I had never had training in plein air painting, and had never painted in a truly wild setting. During this trip, however, I was able to focus on learning strategies to analyze and paint the landscapes.

I'd never painted a cow before, but something about this calf inspired me.

I’d never painted a cow before, but something about this calf inspired me.

The first workshop I took was with Scott Christensen, a well-known landscape painter who teaches workshops at his home in Victor, Idaho. Christensen uses his plein air work as a starting point and reference for large, tonal landscapes he completes in the studio.  Over the course of four days he painted several small demonstrations and began a large landscape painting.

During the workshop we went out as a group to paint small 5 x 8 studies at several locations around Victor and Driggs. After two of these sessions we went back to the studio and he selected paintings to critique and correct. Most of his suggestions were about simplifying the design, about making sure that the painting had a balance of cool and warm tones, and that we had the right values.

A view of the Grand Tetons

A view of the Grand Tetons

The second workshop was with Dave Santillanes, who was also one of the judges for the plein air competition in Driggs, which is 9 miles north of Victor. During the two day workshop Santillanes focused on explaining and demonstrating the way he analyzes areal perspective. He emphasized mixing a separate and distinct color for each area, starting out with lighter and bluer colors and getting progressively darker and richer in color as the scene comes forward in space. While I was familiar with areal perspective as a concept Santillanes’ explanations and the way he organized his palette gave me new insights into the interactions between color and space.

For the competition I finished four plein air paintings. I showed three piece for the exhibition and entered one to be judged. The piece I entered in the competition is a scene from a bend in the Teton River that I had first painted during Christensen’s workshop.  The location is a popular fishing and boating spot.

I needed two sessions to complete the painting. During the first session there was a strong gust of wind that came and blew my easel and umbrella over (yes the painting landed face down, it always does!). By the time I had cleaned up the painting the light and weather conditions had changed so there was not much I could do but scrape off some of the paint and dirt and return the next day to finish the painting.

I hope to continue painting outdoors next summer. In the meantime here in Portland I am making plans to set up a studio and return to painting the figure and the portrait.

Bicycle Rickshaw

Bicycle Rickshaw in Beijing

Bicycle Rickshaw in Beijing

Price: $1500

Please contact me about purchasing this painting.

If you’re in Beijing and really need to get somewhere but can’t find a taxi – or you need to navigate the narrow alleys in a hutong neighborhood, you can take a bicycle rickshaw. This particular rickshaw was always parked near our apartment in Beijing and it caught my eye, especially because of the gold fringe decorating the top and the way the light hit the rickshaw in the afternoon.

Learning from Eduard Lanteri


One of the difficulties in drawing the human figure is learning to proceed in an organized manner. This is particular important when the goal is a more finished drawing and you are confronted with a limited amount of time. There are two important concepts in Eduard Lanterni’s book Modeling and Sculpting the Human Figure that are particularly useful for drawing: finding the chief line and establishing the lines of contrast.

Finding the chief line:
One of Lanterni’s recommendation is drawing a line from the supra-sternal notch (pit of the neck) to the internal malleolus (inner ankle bone) of the weight bearing leg. In the back view you can draw a line from the base of the skull, down the spine and then to the internal malleolus. This line going down the middle of the body he defines as the chief line of the pose.

When you are first learning to draw your focus is on the outlines of the figure. With experience you start letting go of the “outline” and draw “from the inside”. The chief line is a clear example of this.

The drawing of the chief line establishes the balance of the figure and defines the relationship between the torso, pubis, and the leg that carries the weight of the body. It’s useful to use a plumb line when drawing the figure to check how landmarks line-up with each other. The chief line encourages you to think about the movement and balance of the pose.

Below is a photo from a ten minute drawing where I was consciously practicing setting up the figure using Lanterni’s method.

Lines of contrast:
In a pose with contrapposto the chief line will continue form the torso to the leg that carries the weight of the body. Once this chief line is established Lanterni recommends proceeding by analyzing the lines of contrast. In the diagram below Lanterni has drawn the lines of contrast by noticing the relationship of one side of the body to the other.  Establishing the lines of contrast assist in thinking about both gesture and proportion.

Though Lanterni’s book is a manual on sculpting his working method and organization provides several important insights for figure drawing.

You can preview Sculpting the Human Figure in google books (link) or purchase the book at Amazon (link)