Winter may not seem to be the best time for artistic inspiration, let alone painting outdoors, but for many artists there’s nothing like capturing a wintery scene with bare trees set against a frigid blue sky.
The late Andrew Wyeth famously observed that he had preferred winter to spring, mainly because everything was laid bare. “You feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter,” Wyeth said, “ Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
The artist Joe Sweeney has a similar devotion to winter painting, which it makes sense that he will teach an plein air class at the scenic village of Yellow Springs in nearby Chester Springs. From 1912 to 1952, the village was famously known for its “Country School” run by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).
Recently, PAFA has reestablished what they call their “historic relationship” with caretakers of the property, Historic Yellow Springs – Chester Springs Studio, and will offer a range of art classes organized as part of the school’s continuing education program and taught by PAFA faculty including Sweeney.
Classes are open to adults of all levels and are taught in an historic barn on the grounds as well as outdoors. The grounds include several restored spring houses, picturesque foot bridges and “bog” gardens, which were created in the 1920s when (I was told) painting figures in the landscape was in vogue and artists’ models posed as woodland nymphs.
It’s unlikely (read: darn!) that Sweeney’s outdoor winter classes will feature semi-clad models, but participants can still look forward to studying with a nationally known plein air painter
The short list of his accomplishments include his more than 25 years of experience painting outdoors as well as teaching workshops in areas that include Philadelphia's historic Boathouse Row, New Hope, Pennsylvania (home of an important Impressionist school of painting) and Lewes, Delaware. (A few of the beach scenes painted in Lewes are shown here.)
In addition to being an artist who begins nearly every work outdoors, Sweeney works in a medium not traditionally associated with plein air painting – pastel. The public’s fascination with his work, in fact, is evident in his two appearances on the cover of American Artist magazine and recently, in Plein Air Magazine’s new digital edition.
Last summer when he was conducting a workshop in Lewes, Sweeney was filmed giving a pastel painting demonstration which became part of WHYY Video’s “First” program and can be seen on the PBS network’s website. (http://video.whyy.org/video/2008366419)
In a recent interview at the Wayne Art Center, where he has been a longtime instructor, Sweeney spoke of the New Hope school of painters such as Edwin Redfield, a master at capturing the peaceful stillness of winter.
"There's no substitute for being out in the open air painting," Sweeney said. "You can mix the actual color that exists and put that onto the canvass, and it makes the canvass look richer."
At Yellow Springs, (registration closes January 31) Sweeney plans to teach topics that have proven to help students new to outdoor painting such as mixing color to achieve a sense of light, and capturing the time of day. With Sweeney, students always get a bonus – he is seems incapable of not including a host of other helpful information such as varnishing works and transporting and framing work.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to Sweeney’s approach is that he sees plein air painting as open-ended learning process. Students may take the class to get in touch with nature, for instance, or to learn how to freely handle oil paint, acrylic or pastel.
Students who tend to work slowly in the studio are suddenly force to work quickly outdoors due to changing light and weather conditions. Experienced artists who have run out of ideas can also find new subjects outdoors. Sweeney typically encourages his students to continue their paintings after a class and shows them how field studies, sketches or photographs can become the basis of studio paintings.
“It changes your perspective. You are not in the studio where the light is constant,” Sweeney said, “Outside, the light is always moving so you have to be aware that you will only have about two hours in that location before the light moves and the shadows change.”
Painting the winter landscape with Joseph Sweeney
What: Outdoor painting classes offered as part of the continuing education program with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).
Where: In the village of Yellow Springs at 1685 Art School Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425.
Phone: (610) 827-7414
When: The winter landscape class with instructor Joseph Sweeney will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday from 02/07/2012 to 03/20/2012.
Details: Please register by January 31st. Course credit is available. Non-Credit tuition is $310
Visit: PAFA’s web site at www.pafa.edu/ce to register for this class.
The course description is T 605CS Winter Landscape.
More information about Joseph Sweeney, the instructor, can be found here:
Joseph Sweeney’s artist’s statement:
“Over the years I have used landscape painting as a metaphor for my own search for a sense of balance. Some of the themes I explore in my work have to do with man's relationship with nature, the effects that man has on the environment, and expressing the character and essence of "place". My interests range geographically from the farmlands of Pennsylvania to the coastal shores of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maine as well as to my ancestral homeland in Ireland.”