Category Archives: Stephanie’s reviews

No Need to Whine

I recently got to spend five days with 14 other artists painting in the Sierra Nevada foothills, at the most beautiful time of year, in near-perfect conditions.  The occasion?  Kathleen Dunphy’s advanced painting workshop, called “No Whiners: Serious Art for Serious Artists.”

Kathleen Dunphy sketches and Cynthia Hein observes. Photo by Stephanie Benedict
Cynthia Jackson Hein watches while Kathleen Dunphy (right) prepares thumbnail sketches for a demonstration at her No Whiners 2012 workshop.

Dunphy structures her five-day No Whiners a bit differently than most workshops I’ve attended.  She opens with a discussion of ways to work through the roadblocks and stuck places we all encounter.  Then she challenges her students to focus on their weaknesses. She asks everyone to name the three or four things they want to focus on during the workshop, and turns people loose.

She still gives demonstrations:  after all, her students are visual people, and learn in part by seeing.  And while her students are painting, Dunphy offers some very specific personalized instruction to address the topics each student wanted to focus on, whether it be paint handling or composition or painting moving water. People didn’t even have to paint, if they felt drawing would be more useful to them.

She also made sure we got to paint at locations with different types of painting problems.  We drove one day to Tamarack, California (elevation 6,913 ft.), where was snow on the ground, bright yellow aspen trees, and weather warm enough in the afternoon to paint in t-shirts. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Then again, maybe it does.  Dunphy’s enthusiasm is contagious.  She’s a great role model of a working artist, challenging herself to do different things, never settling.  She offer tips on everything from how to see values (“Squint, often.”), to how to protect yourself from snow blindness while you paint, to how to work with galleries.

Someone asked me what I got out of the workshop, and my answer was this:  Besides the painting itself, and the camaraderie with a great group of artists, I got a great attitude adjustment and a renewed sense of commitment.  Thank you, Kathleen, and my fellow No Whiners!

Have you taken a Kathleen Dunphy workshop?  What did you think?


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.


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.