Sharpening the Saw: The value of a quick study

Last month I completed a weekly class with David Tanner, a painter well-known locally for his portraiture. I believe the best artists, and especially the best teachers, are also lifelong students. Thus I am a true believer in the periodic practice of focused study to “sharpen the saw” and to discover new ways of seeing and working.

My current obligations and time constraints make it difficult to invest in a week-long workshop out of town. So I was really interested when a fellow painter-friend recommended David’s class down at the Visual Art Center in Richmond. I have known and enjoyed David’s paintings for his sensitive portraits, his impressionist style and beautiful color sense, so I was delighted when his class, “Increase Your Speed & Capture the Color in Oil” jived with my daughter’s school and after-school schedule.

I loved the concept of this class, which was to distill the subjects, whether still life or the live model, to essential planes, light and shadow, and color, in quick small oil studies. Each class was roughly divided into two 1 1/2 hour sessions, beginning with one or two objects (a vase, a watering can, a piece of fruit) and various combinations of colorful backdrops. Gradually through each class the level of difficulty increased, until switching at last to the live model.

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

My biggest takeaway from this class was the importance of regular practice, with quick studies as a sort of artistic calisthenics. These little paintings, no matter how mundane the subject, were created with the INTENTION of allowing them to just be studies and nothing more. So often with my time constraints I feel a great pressure to create finished pieces— something I can sign and put a frame on. This class was not about that—at all—and I loved it! Frankly, I needed it.

Putting a time limit on the sessions helped me avoid jumping into the fussy details too soon. This occurs also with plein air painting practice, though I tend to spend more time on those, establishing correct proportion and a pleasing composition. I can really see using this approach as a compliment to my plein air painting practice, on rainy days when I can’t get outside. It’s also just a good a regular practice to work into my studio time, to improve and sharpen the saw.

Butter and Buttercups

Each year in early spring the rural counties in Virginia are blanketed with sunny yellow buttercups, and each year I vow to get outside and paint them in the field. More often than not though, I miss their brief appearance for one reason or another. It’s a busy time at my daughter’s school, or I am preparing for a show, or moving, etc., etc., etc.) This year I got lucky, thanks to the sweet tip I received from my husband, who spotted this location on his morning drive to work. 

"Butter and Buttercups", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Butter and Buttercups", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

This dairy farm is about 20 minutes from my home in Ashland, out in rural Hanover County just past historic Hanover Tavern. I started out painting the barn and fields, cowless, with a plan of perhaps adding the cows later from photos I took on site. Just toward the end of my session though, the cows obliged, and ambeled over long enough for me to paint a suggestion of their general shape and position. I decided to leave them as I painted them in the field, as I felt the handling was consistent with the rest of the painting.

From winter to summer, in one post!

It is good to be back to painting again. It has felt like such a long time since I have been able to stand at the easel and wipe all the cares away and just focus on art. Maybe for this reason, this painting came together fairly fluidly. This piece was inspired by a challenge from Gallery Flux, to create works for their upcoming show all about SNOW! So I thought I would experiment with a few different compositions in this theme in hopes that I'd have some good candidates to offer up for the show, and oh what fun it was! I painted from reference photos I took last winter in my neighborhood, which has its share of beautiful stately and Victorian homes.

"Victorian Winter", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E. Young

"Victorian Winter", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E. Young

And now that I have you hankering for some hot chocolate, I carry you back to summer again, with a new online auction. This plein air painting is a little larger than my prior auction listings; it's an 8x10" piece on linen-mounted MDF panel, with an opening bid of just $200. I painted this little gazebo on the dunes just in front of the beach house where my family has been staying the last several summers in Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I love the way the light hits the dunes right around dinner time, when the sun gets lower and the shadows get nice and long.

"Dune Shadows" Oil on linen, 8x10".  SOLD !

"Dune Shadows" Oil on linen, 8x10". SOLD!

New auction! "In Autumn Light", original oil 6x6"

This marks my inaugural post for my first auction of my fall sale. First up this week is a sweet little original oil painting of the First Baptist of Church on Virginia Street in Ashland, Virginia. This auction is listed for 7 days and ends on Sunday, November 5th at 8 PM EST and 5 PM PST. It is offered at a fraction of my retail price, so head on over to my auctions page to read all about it and place a bid if you are so inclined. I hope to post at least a couple of these auctions for small originals each week for the next few weeks, just in time for the holidays. Thanks for looking!

"In Autumn Light", original 6x6" oil painting. SOLD!

"In Autumn Light", original 6x6" oil painting. SOLD!

Online Auctions, Coming Soon!

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In a short time, I will begin listing some new online holiday art auctions, so I thought I would give a heads-up to those of you who are interested in purchasing my art at an excellent price just in time for the season of giving. :-) These will be mostly plein air studies in small sizes, ready for you to frame. If this interests you head on over to my auction site and register in advance so you will be all ready to place your bid when the auctions first becomes available. I should be up and running in just another week or so, so don't miss out!