Have you ever visited the Tubac School of Fine Art? (featured image above courtesy of Lisa Morrow)
Last weekend was incredible for me – I got to teach a plein air workshop in the beautiful artists’ colony Tubac, Arizona with 8 fun and talented artists.
That opportunity came about from the Plein Air Convention in Santa Fe last year. Joan, one of our members, introduced me to Leslie Miller – the director of the Tubac School of Fine Art. That led to an invitation to teach at the school.
The Tubac School of Fine Arts and Tubac (The Art Colony)
You’ve gotta see the magnificent adobe brick building that houses the Tubac School of Fine Arts. It’s beautiful. There are giant cactus, fun arches and inner courtyards. It’s a Southwest painter’s paradise.
Lisa Morrow hosted the workshop for me since Leslie was out of town. Her husband Dale met me at the Tucson airport. They made sure everything ran smoothly and kept me well fed so I could concentrate on teaching.
They were amazing.
I made sure to get there a day early so I would have some time to explore.
Lisa told me to watch for the glowing lavender mountains at sunset, and boy was she right. It was magical.
If you’re able to make it out there sometime, make sure you also have time to check out the town’s highlights – like the best of the more than 100 galleries in the area. You can easily walk to visit the phenomenal selection of shops, galleries and restaurants.
I got to listen to and meet Tige (long i silent e) Reeves. He’s a Nashville country music singer and prolific painter who opened Casa de Tesoro Gallery with his wife Sherry. He likes to sing a few times a week for the people of Tubac.
During Tige’s performance at The Goods restaurant, the sky lit up with color to make the night even more memorable. (p.s. The Goods food is fabulous)
Everyone I met was open and inviting and talked about how much they love it there. If you’re planning a plein air painting trip I highly recommend a stay in Tubac.
The Workshop – Bravura Brushstrokes
I titled the workshop “In the Spirit of a Russian Impressionist” because I wanted to teach the students the plein air bravura approach I learned from Arlo Coles and Sergei Bongart.
Even though I stand and often slash at the canvas like I’m sword fighting, bravura painting isn’t about painting fast and furious. It’s about painting with direct and confident brushstrokes.
I emphasized that before we place color on our canvases we need to make sure we have fixed in our minds the value, color, size and direction we want the stroke to be. Then, when we place the stroke on the canvas we do it without fear.
The brush strokes need to be painted in one pass without going back and noodling them to death. If the stroke doesn’t work the first time, get new paint on the brush and try it again. Don’t play with the stroke or it will destroy the vitality.
The first morning we spent some time talking about materials and important principles of art.
Then we walked down to the Santa Cruz River for a plein air demonstration.
I told them to take all the pics and videos they wanted. It was also emphasized not to worry about interrupting the demo with questions.
The students were awesome. They asked excellent questions and pulled all kinds of information out of me. We didn’t get a finished painting out of it, but it was a fantastic beginning to the learning experience.
We took a poll that morning and everyone decided they would like to use the afternoon to paint back at the school. That way some could paint inside the wonderful natural-light filled studio while others spread out around the courtyard to paint from life.
I originally intended to work on my demo a bit more but was kept busy helping each of the students with their paintings.
The 2nd day we set up close to the school where we could see the Santa Rita and Tumacacori Mountains.
Several students wanted to see how to simplify mountain shadows and shapes of color. With close to 3 hours I got a lot farther with the demo and solidified some of the concepts we discussed the day before.
As an added bonus, I also got a lot of color on my pale Indiana winter skin from the wonderful Arizona sun.
After the demo we headed back to the studio again. Half the students painted in the studio and half worked outside in the courtyard or just outside the walls.
I had a blast, and based on the feedback I received the students did too.
“I had a marvellous time, my first workshop and with You, very special. I learned so much, now just need to process and practice. I look at our mountains now and see them in a different light, thank you so much, you are a great teacher and person. I’m going to look at the videos again and start painting.”
The Tubac Landscape
Since I had not been to Tubac before I was a bit hesitant about painting plein air. I wasn’t sure if there would be enough engaging spots in a small town – especially close by.
Luckily I had nothing to worry about. I wish it had been a 5-day workshop – there was so much to see.
The town is flowing with Spanish style buildings artists restored in the mid 1900’s when they turned Tubac into an art colony. They started the yearly Tubac Festival of the Arts which is now one of the longest running festivals in the country – over 60 years.
Tubac also has one of the oldest stands of Cottonwood trees in the state. There’s the beautiful Anza Trail that follows the Santa Cruz river about 4 miles through the cottonwoods.
Sunsets and sunrises were incredible, especially against the mountain ranges west and east of Tubac.
There were way more sights and scenes to enjoy than I can share through this post. Hopefully, this helps you see why I now recommend visiting Tubac so highly.
They’ve invited me back next March (2020) to teach again. The people were so much fun and the landscape was completely captivating, so I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I hope I see you out there too!
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