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A Year in the Woods*

By September 7, 2013November 3rd, 2021Sketches

It’s been about a year now that I’ve actively been pursuing plein air studies.  To very good returns.  I manage 2-4 drawings per session.  Each drawing is between 30-40mins.  I have a cadre of tools that are familiar but all fawlty (it never ends).  I have locations that I like and vistas that welcome me back over and over again.

The park has become more active as Harlem continues to gentrify.  This summer was slammed with people at the meer.  Late last year the parks dept decided to tear up a park that is essentially my backsplash.  From what i can tell, they really haven’t done much work.  That might have been mitigated by the Hurricane damage to the park last Autumn.  But I suspect it’s something else.  Central Park has 100s of millions of dollars.  They can do whatever they want when they want to.  But i digress.

A lingering question… have i gotten better? Yes, to some degree.  My drawing skills had been sorely exercised this past decade.  A few years ago, i started going to live figure study sessions at the Society, which helped shake off some dust.  My first drawings at the park weren’t bad.  They loooked like my sketches of yore, but they were my first landscape drawings.  And as such, they could improve.  An online sketching forum referred to these drawings as “graphic” and “posterized” in places.  Hard to dodge considering the media I’m using.  But doubly so in that I’ve never shied away from dense lines and sure footing.  Hamfisted might be a less kind way of describing that.  🙂

More recent drawings, say the past few months, have seen me move more from dense volume and noise to elegiac sweeping gestures and questionable passages.  These are more mature concerns (not specifically better) in that it requires a significant amount of pre-editing and restraint.  I’d like to think that I’m somewhere between apprentice and journeyman in my plein air journey.

Here’s a drawing from two days ago that illustrates those qualities…



Some familiar friends from the Southern Shore of the Meer.  A little blown out by photoshop to remove the verso from bleeding through but mostly true.  What you see here are elements that are less slavishly represented and composition and read being early details of the drawing.

Quite a bit of distance from…




My first drawing at the Meer, of my island.  You can see me playing with volume and trying to deal with the complexity.

So, what’s changed?  There are a handful of really valuable pieces of education…

1. Nathan Fowkes (an ACCD classmate) frequently blogs amazing gouache studies that spur me on.

2. I picked up the Carlson guide to landscape painting that Dover publishes.  It’s essential reading on the topic.

3. The Sargent exhibition and perhaps the Bellows exhibition last Autumn too, helped me to get perspective on what i wanted to achieve and how to keep the bravado in the work rather than finessing the hell out if until it stops breathing.

4. Recently, I’ve started to look at the Scott Christensen videos on landscape and I image that they too will be significant in helping this next evolution. Christensen’s incredibly limited palette already has caused a tide shift in how i will next proceed.

5. And also recently, Matthew Innis’s excellent blog and his recent posting about Augustus “Shorty” Lazar’s paintings and teachings at the turn of last century.  Some really important notes in this blog thread.  I’d like to find the entire text.  read this: Charles Augustus Shorty Lazar


And then too, an enormous amount of blogs and web sites that help propel the discussion.  It’s been a great ride!  Looking forward to Year 2.


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