Wow sums it up! Kristie and I had an incredible experience on Kiawah Island where I got to teach a 4-day oil painting workshop. Dolphins, alligators, dancing, friendship and lots of painting were all part of the fun.
Last fall Beth invited me to teach a group who had been painting together each year for the past 24 years. They are all good friends who love art and create works in lots of different mediums and styles – watercolor, acrylic, sculptural paper, oil painting, seascapes, wildlife, horses, birds, and landscapes.
Only a few of them use oil paint, but they love to get together. So, they play with a different medium each year by inviting a professional artist to teach them for a week.
The workshop started on Monday, but they all met earlier to paint Sunday at Beth’s family’s farm. The farm was originally built by her grandfather and has grown over the generations to become unbelievably beautiful.
The Azaleas, which bloom for about a week each year, were in full color. Fortunately, Beth brought some cuttings back for me to use for the first demo Monday morning.
The Plantation House
The plantation house where we all slept and painted during the workshop was breathtaking. It’s a couple hundred years old, and the house was restored to its original historical condition after a fire destroyed most of the building.
Beth and her family have added stunning rooms and windows to the side facing the salt marsh.
The house is four stories and provided room for all the guests to stay so they could talk and paint together the whole week. Beth kept plenty of drinks and snacks available throughout the day for everyone. All of us were able to relax and concentrate on painting and learning.
We were all so worn out from painting all day that the hot tub got a lot more visitors than the pool, but Kristie often soaked her feet in the cool water while she read a book.
There was a paved path that led straight from the Plantation House to the beach.
Each afternoon after the day’s demo and teaching, Beth had bikes ready for us. With a short 5-minute ride we were looking for shells and walking through the surf.
Monday Morning – Art Supplies & Azaleas
Monday morning, I started by sharing a lot of what I have learned about art materials. The nice thing about driving instead of flying was having plenty of room to take extra supplies along.
I wish someone had taught me 30 years ago what I know now about painting materials!
After discussing my favorite supplies, I got to play with strong crimson colors in a 12×16 demo of Azaleas Beth brought back from the farm. Some of those crimson colors were so brilliant and bright they were tough to duplicate with the colors on my palette (we’ll talk more about this concept within the next couple of weeks).
With all the crimson colors in the flowers, I decided to start with a greenish manganese background as a complement to all the reds.
I focused the teaching on the use of strong contrasts and saturated color for drama. I emphasized the use of light and shadow to create movement through the painting. We also discussed how white paint cools and desaturates colors – a good reason to create flower petals with as little white as possible for strong, vibrant translucent color.
The next morning, as I prepared for the demo of Spanish Moss, I put a few needed touches on the Azalea demo. Lunch was waiting the previous day, so I didn’t have a chance to tone down the background greens.
I also added some brighter pink flowers to lead the viewer better around the painting. Total time for the demo was around 2 hours.
After lunch, I got to spend the rest of the afternoon traveling around the house and porch area helping each of the other artists with their paintings.
Tuesday – Spanish Moss and Azalea Bushes
Tuesday morning Beth said she wanted some insights about painting the beautiful Spanish Moss draping over the Oak Tree branches and other plants. She asked if I could paint from one of her photos taken at the farm that also showed a lot of azalea bushes.
If you have to paint from photos an Apple computer monitor is a good way to go!
I chose to leave out the evergreen hedge that was visible in the photo because it was such a strong visual barrier to moving back in the painting.
Since there was so much going on in the photo, and to really show some of the techniques I would use to paint the moss and bushes, I chose a larger 16×20 ABS panel for the painting.
I had not previously painted Spanish Moss. With a large Rosemary 2085 Egbert or a Utrecht 103 extra-long Filbert laid flat, I was able to drag the brush lightly over the other colors and leave behind a fun semblance of the beautiful moss.
After about 2 ½ hours of painting I had demonstrated how to quickly block in the major masses and shapes as well as establish the light and shadow needed for interesting forms. I also got the Spanish Moss draped over the large Oak Tree branches.
Denise asked to purchase the demo, so Friday morning I took it outside to tweak it a bit for her.
I added some highlights to the flowers, moss, and trees, and I deleted a large lower branch to open things up and eliminate some confusing overlap of shapes. Total painting time was about 3 hours.
Wednesday – Sunset Demo & Eliminating White
Wednesday Beth told me she was preparing to do some sunset scenes for a children’s hospital wing. She does some amazing things with her wall-sized artwork that allow children in the hospital to interact with the art.
She asked if I would do a demo of sunset colors – especially since it was supposed to rain all morning.
The photo references she had contained beautiful sunset yellows and oranges streaking across the sky, but the landscape portion was completely dark. That meant that I needed to use what I knew from painting and observing on location to fill in the missing information.
I pray each morning before I start working, but at this point I sent up another prayer asking for some guidance about what principles would best serve everyone that morning. The thought came immediately to demonstrate how to paint brilliant vivid sunset colors without using white paint. I told everyone I would be painting in a style closer to what I did back in the 90’s, but I didn’t tell them that the idea of not using white was a new one.
While I did use some white in the blues and lavenders in the sky, all the reds, yellows, and oranges were completely free of white paint. I used the paint as it came from the tube, or by mixing them together with other colors.
I began with Cad Red Medium and progressed through the painting with Cad Red Light, Cad Orange, Cad Yellow Medium and Cad Lemon. The idea was to show how bright we can get our colors when we place the right amount of darker values around them.
Reds, yellows, and oranges straight from the tube are so much more rich and vivid than they are when we add white to them. I told them that if they just couldn’t resist, once they had all of their colors laid down, adding a tiny touch of white to Cad Lemon for a small final stroke would be alright.
Thursday – Salt Marsh and Dock Demo
Thursday the weather cleared up and we headed out to the Creek House deck for some plein air painting.
While I studied the marsh to best teach how to paint the colors and atmosphere, Linda exclaimed: “oh good, I have struggled trying to paint the dock.”
I hadn’t planned on including the dock. A nice leisurely painting of marsh grasses, the salt river, and atmospheric colors had been on my mind.
Throwing in a dock added another level of complexity. However, it also gave me an opportunity to teach some additional concepts that worked out perfectly for topping off the week of demos, so I’m glad she brought it up.
Once the dock became the center of attention, I arranged the design to give emphasis to the deep shadows and bright values reflecting off the wooden structure. I decided to use the lavender clouds in the distance as a cue to darken the sky in order to heighten the other values in the painting.
I spent some time (too much) working out how to simplify the dock while maintaining the major characteristics.
The dock was intentionally placed above the halfway point in the painting to avoid centering the main subject and I chose a smaller 9×12 panel so I could demonstrate keeping the brushstrokes minimal and bravura.
I painted a mid-value reddish lavender for the marsh grasses because that was the value I saw when I squinted and the overall color of the grass masses. Then, once the dock was worked out, I used a large Egbert brush to quickly and vigorously apply a mix of warmer and cooler greens over the top of the base color.
The reds under those greens helped the colors vibrate. I approached the river in a similar bravura technique, using plenty of thick paint for an interesting texture.
One of the highlights of the day was a dolphin swimming slowly up the river in the middle of the demo. It’s tough to top a dolphin – so we all stopped and watched it work its way up the river and out of sight around the bend before continuing the demo.
Of course, I was so taken with simply watching the dolphin with paint brushes in my hands that I never thought to grab my camera. The following evening the dolphin came back with a baby in tow. That was when Beth took the photo of the dolphin rubbing itself on the bank.
That night we wrapped up the week with a group critique so everyone could see each other’s paintings and applaud their success.
Friendship and a Supportive Community
Kristie and I both feel incredible gratitude for the opportunity to visit Kiawah and for the success of the workshop. We loved getting up early to bike down to the beach and watch the sunrise.
Our favorite memories from the trip, however, are of the people we met.
Beth, Linda, Barbara, Julie, Anne, Paulette, Laura, Denise, Dee, Linda, Debbie, Jan, Beverly and Donna Kay – you are a magnificent group of women.
Kristie and I marveled at how each of you encouraged, supported and loved one another. We all need a group of friends like yours.
I believe that art brings out the best in us – it was evident during our stay on Kiawah Island and we see it repeated consistently within our Master Oil Painting community.
I encourage each of you to reach out and befriend other artists around you to form friendships that will last a lifetime!
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