Monthly Archives: October 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

Did you watch the World Series? No, I’m not going to talk about baseball. Did you see the Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial?

That commercial (despite the rude comments on YouTube) really is a great metaphor for what it takes to be a painter. I had never even heard of Dick’s Sporting Goods (there aren’t any where I live), but I watched that commercial of athletes practicing dribbling basketballs backwards, or practicing throwing footballs, or practicing balance beam routines, and I thought: this could be about painting.

  • Dancers take dance class every morning.
  • Basketball players practice dribbling
  • Musicians do their scales.
  • Baseball players take batting practice.
  • Heck, astronauts practice in swimming pools to simulate zero gravity.

And painters wonder why they don’t paint masterpieces every time they step up to the canvas.

I suppose it has to do with the fact that a practice painting feels exactly like “real” painting: get all the equipment out, go to a location (if you paint plein air), set up, use those expensive oil paints, do thumbnails, and then take an hour or four to do a painting. Only the grounds might be cheaper than for “real” paintings. Musicians know that when they practice, they aren’t performing.

With painting, anything you get might be frame-able, so you’re always thinking you’re painting. It must be the same with writing: any character sketch can develop into a novel.  But you have to develop the muscles to create, and keep them in shape.

It’s all in the attitude.

What do you think? How much do you practice? Do you draw every day? I’ll respond to your comments after practice.


Almost Famous

The PBS program America’s Heartland has aired an episode about the Yolo Art and Agriculture program (It aired October 17 and October 21, 2012, on my local station, but the air dates might be different on your PBS affiliate.) It’s pretty cool that this program has received this kind of attention—and, according to the episode, it’s also been noticed by arts organizations around the country. I know I very much appreciate being able to go out to private property to paint with them, and then sharing the vistas and open space with people through my paintings.

I wasn’t there the day the film crew showed up, so they didn’t interview me. But I AM in it—very briefly! Toward the end, they show a couple of still photos. The artist in the gray jacket with her back to the camera is me. Don’t blink. You’ll miss me.

This is the painting I was working on the day Janice Purnell of Yolo Art & Ag snapped the photo PBS used.

Terra Firma Study ©2011 Stephanie Benedict oil 8 x 10 inches
Terra Firma Study ©2011 Stephanie Benedict oil 8 x 10 inches. I later did a larger version as well.

Ebb and Flow: a solo exhibition by Kathleen Dunphy

I had the chance to attend the opening of Kathleen Dunphy’s solo exhibition, Ebb and Flow, at Knowlton Gallery in Lodi, California, this past weekend. Twenty-six paintings fill the gallery at Knowlton with light and—I have no other word for it—grace. The works range from still lifes of flowers in glass vases, to cows quietly watching the watcher, to fog rolling onto the Marin Headlands. Some were created on site, en plein air; many are larger studio pieces. (A couple of the pieces are 36″ by 48″, and one is 48″ by 60″.)

Kathleen Dunphy at Knowlton Gallery
Kathleen Dunphy discusses how she painted “Sanctuary” from the small plein air sketch in her hand. At the opening of Ebb and Flow, October 2012. Photo by Stephanie Benedict

The landscapes, especially, have a grandeur and immediacy to them that stops you in your tracks. And it’s not the plein air pieces, so full of the energy, that strike you. No, it’s the big ones. So often, enlarging a smaller painting results in a loss of the energy of the original work. However Dunphy did it, whether by creating a new composition by using multiple sketches as the source material or what, she has given the larger pieces a different kind of energy: less visceral, perhaps, but more intense.

I overheard another artist at the opening say, as the highest compliment he could pay, “I wish I’d painted this.” Well—me, too.

(Full disclosure: I’ve taken several of Dunphy’s workshops. I’m a huge fan, so this is not an unbiased review.)

I’ve long maintained Dunphy is an incredibly generous teacher. She was also generous with visitors at the opening. The 30 or so people who attended last Saturday afternoon got to hear Dunphy describe how she uses her small plein air sketches as source material for her larger pieces. Her stories of trying to catch the light before the fog engulfed the view, or heading out for trip to the Sierras and forgetting all but one brush, helped give each painting a life beyond mere canvas. They also helped her listeners understand a bit of what it’s like to be a painter.

It’s also nice to see all the red dots at the exhibition.  But then, most of Dunphy’s paintings sell.  So if you’re interested, act quickly.


Ebb and Flow: Painting Nature’s Rhythms is at Knowlton Gallery in Lodi through November 24, 2012.


A Mine of Beauty, Landscapes by William Trost Richards

Last week I mentioned that I’d received two new books on my doorstep. This post is a review of the second book.

Thanks to James Gurney, my library has a new addition: a delightful book of watercolor miniatures by Nineteenth Century American painter William Trost Richards called A Mine of Beauty. Published by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for an exhibition of the paintings, this little book is itself a mine of beauty. Or, as my friend Steven put it, “Holy cow!”

An Essay at Twilight by William Trost Richards at PAFA
An Essay at Twilight, watercolor on paper, 3 5/16 x 5 inches. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Promist Gift of Dorrance H. Hamilton in memory of Samual M. V. Hamilton

Richards (1833–1905) was a Philadelphia painter who painted both in oil and watercolor. The approximately 100 paintings in A Mine of Beauty are printed full sized, from about 2 ½ inches by 3 ½ inches to 3 by 6. Richards painted them for his patron, industrialist George Whitney. Remarkably, the collection remained intact and now belongs to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The paintings in A Mine of Beauty are remarkable: beautifully rendered landscapes and seascapes from southern New England, mostly around Newport and Conanicut Island in Rhode Island, and from Britain. They are exquisitely detailed little things, images of shorelines, boats, villages, sheep grazing in fields, river scenes. The man must have had a size 000 brush and a magnifying glass to make some of these tiny people and animals and castles. I recently had a brief discussion with another blogger about size. Well, these miniature watercolors show just how big a world a tiny canvas can convey. And they’re watercolors!

If you believe, as I do, that a painter should study the masters to improve her own work, then, as much as Sorolla or Sargent, this is a must see for landscape painters.

The book is fabulous. The exhibition runs from September 29 to December 30, 2012. I wish I were going to Philadelphia this fall so I could see it!

Postscript: To be fair, there’s another new book on Richards, called William Trost Richards True to Nature: Drawings, Watercolors and Oil Sketches by Carol M. Osborne. As the title indicates, this larger book showcases Richards’ oils and drawings. I recommend them both to anyone interested in Richards’ work.

New Book on Joaquin Sorolla: Get It While You Can

Two new art books arrived on my doorstep yesterday. I’ll save the smaller book for a later post. This week I want to talk about the larger book: Sorolla: The Masterworks, by Blanca Pons-Sorolla. (She is the artist’s great-granddaughter and the author of several books by him.)


Sorolla's Return From Fishing, 1894, via
Return from Fishing, by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, 1894. I love these paintings of the boats on the shore: the sun, the wind in the sails, the water flowing at one’s feet. Sorolla said his subject was the sun, and he definitely gets it here.


While many people think of the Big Three of 19th Century painters as Monet, Renoir, and Manet, I know many contemporary artists who look rather to Sargent, Sorolla, and Swedish painter Anders Zorn. If you’ve ever tried to find a book on Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and been frustrated because they were out of print and selling for over $100 used—order this one right now. I’ve no idea how large the print run of this book is, but if it’s like the other Sorolla books, it will only be printed once, and will be unavailable by Christmas (I’m writing this in early October 2012).

This really is a luscious book. It has large color reproductions of over 100 paintings in a high-quality printing, supplemented by black-and-white photos of Sorolla at work (including on some of the pieces in the book). Typical of Rizzoli, the printing is very good: even in these reproductions you can sometimes feel the sun and the surf that Sorolla captured so amazingly in his paintings of children at the beach, fisherman bringing in the boats, or a horse after a bath in the ocean. The paintings are shown in chronological order, so you can trace the changes in Sorolla’s style from fairly tight to much looser.

His portraits are sometimes compared to those of John Singer Sargent’s—the men evidently knew one another—and it’s nice to be able to compare the two (in high-quality reproductions, at least!). Books on Sargent are readily available, and new ones appear with regularity. Books on Sorolla, though, are ephemeral: here for a brief season and then gone. (Books on Zorn are non-existent, but Amazon does have an e-book for their Kindle Fire that’s not bad.)

If you’ve seen Pons-Sorolla’s big book, Joaquin Sorolla, published by the San Diego Museum of Art and now selling used for over $200, that book has more paintings in it (and many of them the same paintings as the new book), but the reproductions here are better: more subtle and probably truer to the paintings. The photographs of the painter at work, which show how he posed those children on the beach, and the giant canvases he worked on outdoors, are great. If you don’t already know Sorolla—this one is definitely worth seeking out.