Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Painting Holidays!

December 20, 2011

This is the time of year when I just feel darn grateful. Not everything has gone my way, for sure, but I'm grateful to be working as a professional artist and instructor, to be selling artwork to those who love it, and to be able to travel (I'm a gypsy) to share my knowledge.

This year has found me teaching, and/or painting, in Italy, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida and throughout Virginia. I have loved every minute of it.

I've sold a lot of paintings and I've met a lot of wonderful people who share a love of watercolor painting with me. I enjoy sharing what I know (and, I'm still learning and hope that I always will be), and watching students advance. It's pure joy to start seeing results from students and know that they love painting just as much as I do. Along with this blog, I've posted a picture of some of the cards students have sent me this December.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all and, most importantly, Happy Painting!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ghost Ranch: Thanks for the Memories

Thanks, Debra, for sending me so many good pictures to share with everyone from Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. I'm sharing pictures here: Lani and her paintings at our final exhibit; some of the wonderful students; Debra, Nancy, Linda and I in front of one of O'Keeffe's subjects (Debra is holding a copy of the Georgia O'Keeffe painting): finally, a photograph of me and my best friend, the wild burro, Ed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

From Ghost Ranch, NM to Snow in Virginia

It was sad to leave Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, NM. It was mostly sad because a big nor'easter was blowing through the mid Atlantic, leaving a wet sloppy snow in Virginia, along with power failures at my house.

Thankfully, I arrived home safely and I wish everyone along the Mid Atlantic and the Northeast well, as this bad storm barrels along the coast, leaving many power outages along the way.

I hope that these pictures will leave you feeling warm.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Ghost Ranch, I highly recommend it. What a gorgeous location with so many possibilities for the painter.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Last Class at Ghost Ranch

Today is the last day of my class. Everyone put their paintings up on screens and the outcome of this week's work is amazing. Great, great work, everyone! The class was full of interesting folks from all over the country. I immensely enjoyed meeting everyone.

After class, I went hiking towards Box Canyon to find the pond. I wanted to get pictures of the mountain reflected in water.

Here is another painting to share with you, "Morning Shadows," as well as pictures from my hike.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, Tuesday

My workshop is going splendidly. Everyone in class seems to be moving along quickly and they've all begun painting the landscape.

Today, I went on a tour of the area where Georgia O'Keeffe lived, and we saw her home and many of the areas where she drove her car, which she had customized into a studio on wheels, and painted.

If I thought the landscape on the public part of the ranch was strange, then today I discovered that the private areas where O'Keeffe painted were even more imaginative: more twisted forms, layers of different colored rock, odd columns and holes and more contorted shapes.

I'm posting some pictures from the landscape tour, as well as my first completed painting of the scene outside of the art center, where I'm teaching.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Mexico

The Cottonwood trees are a brilliant gold. I can see why Georgia O'Keeffe was mesmerized by the rough beauty of the area. I understand her paintings now.

Earth Colors and Chimney Rock

How does one paint the colors and the contorted rocks of the New Mexico mountains? I've never seen so many earth colors: all the reds, all the yellows, all the ochres and browns will be required, as well as grays, lavenders and greens.

Today, I finally sat down and began an "en plein aire" painting of Chimney Rock. It's a strange tower of red rock, hung high on a cliff. It was so windy, my paper and palette were blowing and, of course, the paints were drying very quickly. I ended up with a fairly nice little piece, which I'll post tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are more pictures of Ghost Ranch, including the Cottonwood Trees in all their fall glory and Chimney Rock.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, is the land of dreams

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, exceeds expectations. The vastness and strangeness of the landscape is incomparable. Is it a moonscape? Is it from some strange imagination? There’s geologic drama everywhere you look. The colors consist of reds, oranges, purples, greens, and grays. The shapes are molded and melted and twisted from some sort of cataclysmic geological event. The light during the day is amazing and I can clearly see why the shapes and light attracted Georgia O'Keeffe. The night sky is the blackest I’ve ever seen but, at the same time, it’s full of more stars than I’ve ever observed. There are so many stars and complex galaxies, that the sky is nearly opaque.

I’ve never felt more like a grain of sand than I do now.

Ghost Ranch must be one of the most eerily beautiful places on earth…..here are some pictures to share with you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dancing Shadows and The Apple Tree

"Dancing Shadows" is a portrait of the little stone spring house on the Wyeth property and "The Apple Tree" just won 1st place in Watercolors at the Waterford Fair in Virginia.

Wyeth Estate: Paint Fast! Real Fast!

Friday was a delight. About forty artists were allowed to paint on Jaimie Wyeth's estate in Chadd's Ford, PA. What an interesting farm. First of all, the site was waaaaay back on a dirt road, with a skull and crossbones on the sign! Then, we drove beyond the estate into a field and had to drag equipment for quite a long way and THEN: we had to turn in a completed and framed painting by noon! And, it was already nine am!

Imagine selecting from these scenes: a tremendous stone house; a striking multi level barn with dramatic shadows; pure bred black horses and black cats; an ancient cart with a hat artistically placed by the whip on the seat; spotted goats; peacocks; mountain vistas; and a little stone spring house with purple shadows dancing on its side.

The result of this morning's painting session was "Dancing Shadows," which will be available at Wide River Gallery in Colonial Beach, VA, during November of 2011.

"Old Glory" in West Chester, PA

The previous painting from the King's Ranch area is titled "Big Sky," and it is sold. That painting was completed in three hours!

The previous painting of "Autumn Arrives at the Old Mill" will be available at the Wide River Gallery in Colonial Beach during November, 2011. That painting was also completed in three hours.

On Thursday,I did a really fast piece, "Old Glory," right in front of the West Chester, PA courthouse. I sat right under the eaves and by the hot dog vendor (yum). It was a lot of fun, the sky was glorious, rain was impending and I drew the perspective up so quickly, that I excited....myself!
This painting was the fastest one yet: it was completed in two hours.

King's Ranch and the Brandywine Valley

I painted in the King's Ranch area on Wednesday. King's Ranch is an enormous area of acreage in Pennsylvania that is very historic, rolling farmland filled with every beautiful scene imaginable to the painter. I painted this piece on private property. We drove over a very old covered bridge to reach our destination and there were so many things to paint: a beautifully restored barn! a gorgeous historic house! sheep! fields and mountains! little interesting outbuildings!

I decided to paint on this lovely, well kept, delightful garden that overlooked the broad vista of the Brandywine Valley.

Plein Aire Brandywine September 2011

Painting in the Brandywine area of Pennsylvania was very tough. Artists were fighting rain and insects, as well as time, all week long. Every day, we were on site by around dawn. We had a few hours to paint and then our framed pieces had to be in by an assigned time: daily! This is particularly tough for a watercolor painter like me. All frames, mats, paper and glass had to be cut, sized and ready to go.

Every time it rained, it came down in torrents and we had to rush our equipment back into our cars. I didn't sleep much, nor did I go to the bathroom or eat much. Needless to say, when I returned home after my week, I slept a lot.

I did enjoy the beauty of Longwood Gardens and Winterthur on Monday. Honestly, my favorite place in Winterthur is the Enchanted Woods, where one and all can become children again and play on the troll's bridge, or sit in the tiny chairs in the tiny cottage, or hop along the mushroom path. It was lovely. On Tuesday, I painted the old stone mill at the Hagley Museum. The painting looks like it was ... a little rainy. I sat in the woods and created this piece in three hours.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I'm gathering things together for plein aire painting in the beautiful Brandywine Valley.

It takes a tremendous amount of coordination and organization to prepare for these events. I have to order frames and mats ahead of time, and have my painting surfaces pre cut. I don't enjoy painting to a pre determined size, but in plein aire competitions, the artist must turn in completed paintings that are beautifully framed for the final sales. So, I'm already thinking, one month ahead of the contest, of what I might paint and what size the pieces will be.

I have to organize all of my supplies and be sure that I don't forget anything. There may not be art supply stores available to meet my needs. Also, I need to plan my time carefully to be sure that not ONE MINUTE is wasted that could be used for painting during the limited times I will be allowed on the sites that are on the list. Most sites can only be visited for six to eight hours on a specified day.

So my mind and goals must be fine tuned: I must know where I'm going to paint each day, have a good idea what sort of subject I'll paint and I must know EXACTLY what size I'll be working towards because I have a limited number of complete frames that I'm taking with me.

I'm a studio painter. Most of my plein aire pieces are more difficult for me because they must be completed in one day. In the studio, I can just.... take my time.

Meanwhile, in the studio, I'm painting sheep. I'm attaching a photograph here to muse upon....

Monday, August 29, 2011

Carrollton Cultural Arts Center, Georgia On My Mind....

I truly enjoyed meeting the artists in Carrollton, GA. This town has a surprisingly large and new arts center with a theatre, a set design studio, costume shop, art gallery and plenty of large well lit classrooms. Who knew? I thank the students for sharing time with me and allowing me to present a few ideas to them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plein Aire Brandywine

I just found out that I've been selected to participate in the "Plein Aire Brandywine" competition from September 25 - October 1, 2011. The competition will take place in the scenic Brandywine Valley, including Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, the Hagley Museum and Mt. Cuba. I'm so excited! I've never even seen these properties, but I've heard a lot about them and look forward to painting them!

If you'd like to visit me during this event, I would just love it!

I absolutely love painting outdoors. One must paint quickly, trying to capture the scene in as few brushstrokes as possible. Plein aire work doesn't always turn out; but when it does, it's magic.

The picture here was painted on site in Unison, VA in 2 1/2 hours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Still Thinking about Tuscany

I've booked another trip to teach plein aire painting in Tuscany, Italy, June 9 - 16, 2012, through www.ilchiostro.com.

The staff and the location were so amazing, I can't get it out of my mind. Registration information is on my website at www.catherinehillis.com.

This picture was taken by Marcia, one of my students. It's such a classic. It looks like, perhaps, I've missed the best scene of all.... which is behind me! But, truthfully, everywhere I turned was some beautiful subject, just waiting to be painted.

Summer's the time for plein aire painting and I'm doing my share of it. I didn't paint outdoors today because of the 100 degree weather, but I'm trying to go out twice a week at a minimum to paint en plein aire. There's something so exciting and even DANGEROUS about capturing an image in just a few hours. I love the sense of adventure and the spontaneity required in plein aire work. And, for me, it's just plain fun.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Splash 12: I'm published!

The Splash 12 Book: Best of Watercolors, is out and I'm in it! This is an exciting step in a good direction for me. If you want a copy of the book, let me know and I'll order you one. I'm on page 96: the painting is "Round 'n Round."

Copyright (c)2011, North Light Books. All materials used by permission of F+W Media. All rights reserved.

Interested in workshops? Check out my website at: http://www.catherinehillis.com/

Friday, June 24, 2011

Easels in Frederick

A week after getting back from Italy, I've been on the road again, this time in Frederick, Md., for the Easels in Frederick plein aire event. Here. courtesy of the Frederick News Post and AJ Messer, is a video of the event where I was interviewed. This is a national level event, and only 30 artists were selected to paint. We had a small geographic area in which we could work, but Frederick provided us with beautiful subject matter.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Venice is a wonder. The entire town looks like a painting and nearly every photograph I took could become a painting. There are colorful characters everywhere, the graceful gondolas, the ever amusing gondoliers, and quirky little shops stuffed into every corner and crevice, bursting with unusual items: commedia dell’ arte masks, colorful glass, jewelry, wooden items, fine china, expensive designer clothing, the funkiest art, hand made papers and books, marvelous clothing, and hand crafted items of every color, sort and style.

It was a delight to wander through the Venetian streets, not knowing where I was, and somehow return right back to where I started.

It seems as though much of the gold in the world is either in Venice, Rome or Florence – in the churches. I’ve seen more reliquaries than you can shake a …. um, bone, at. Words cannot express the wonder of the art available for viewing in Italy. And, it seems to me that Venice must have been, at one time, the center of the entire world, from the looks of its great wealth and splendor.

Of all the places I’ve been, I’d like most to return to Burano to paint. It’s the little island outside of Venice that’s best known for its lace makers. It’s full of boats, and little buildings painted in all the pastel colors you have in a crayon box: lavender, pink, blue, yellow. The streets are wide and fairly quiet, the laundry is flapping in the breeze above the colorful window boxes, and the shops require a second glance. It’s my hope to return, sooner rather than later, and set up my easel and capture those colorful and watery landscapes on paper.

Watercolor Workshop en plein aire

I presented several demonstrations outdoors. The first one was on site in Radda. I wandered around the town to get a feel for where I’d like to paint; then I set up my equipment, took some photographs and penciled in a quick sketch. The students looked around the town for suitable spots where they might like to paint, and then we gathered around my easel for the demonstration, which took me about 45 minutes.

On the day we spent in Siena, several students met for lunch, and sketched at a little cafĂ© overlooking the valley. Eleanor and Bonnie then “went to the wall” to complete their pieces. Chris and Laila found a lovely little spot where the owner gave them permission to paint and even honored them with an umbrella for shade. Marcia, Mary and Susan completed their sketches, while Tess wandered around town to soak in some “Italian.”

A plein aire workshop is not only about painting; it’s also about experiences. It’s true that practice is an important component of learning how to compose a successful painting outdoors in the elements while tourists are distracting you, the wind is blowing and the paint is drying, but time spent in plein aire is a time of opportunity. The artist will take home some pretty pictures they created, many photographs of magical moments that may become work in the studio, sketches that will become masterpieces, and creative ideas that will provide artistic food for a lifetime.

The Workshop in Italy

Little did I know what I was headed for when I boarded the bus for the Tuscan Renaissance Center and the impending workshop.

The staff treated us graciously and with impeccable service, beginning with day one at the train station in Florence. We were most pleased with the facility: a restored monastery with tastefully luxurious Tuscan decor in every room. Our group had their first meeting in what was once the chapel and now serves as an extra large meeting room. A group appetizer night included olives, bruschetta, local breads, crackers and zucchini tartlets along with free flowing local wine. I set up my week long schedule with staff and we were off on an adventure of incredible meals, polite care, different sites daily, shopping and painting.

Meals were a real adventure: the local chef would bring up each dish and deliver a lengthy description of ingredients and any history that might be relevant. We had dishes such as a hearty peasant soup, a barbeque of ribs, chicken, Tuscan bacon and sausages, rissotto, pastas, fresh Tuscan lasagna, spinach tarts, local delmonico steaks,all sorts of local vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, Italian beans, potatoes, eggplants, Italian breads, olives, figs, peaches, apricots, and nuts of all kinds. Each dessert was magnificent: an apple tart with an apple liqueur sauce, bread pudding with caramel sauce (made by our own magnificent Tess), chocolate souffle with braised peaches, an ice cream concoction that incorporated cherries, chocolate and tiny almond cookies, and another cake with a lemon curd topping. Each breakfast included fresh cake baked by the Renate, one of the owners of San Fedele, along with yogurts, local jams and honey, cereals, croissants, fresh local fruits, nuts, eggs, juices and lots of coffee. Because of the hearty meals, it become imperative that we get out and.....walk.

We set up easels in Radda, San Fedele and Monteriggione; we toured Siena and San Gimignano and the market stalls in local towns. Our group went to a dinner and wine tasting at a local winery. We took hundreds of pictures of stone towns, shadows, sunlight, laundry hanging from windows and wine fields. One day, Michael, who was always so helpful and gracious to us, diverted to a field where there was a cherry tree, weighed down with fruit. We took advantage of the situation.

During two of our meals, we were treated to music: two of our hosts, Linda and Michael, are professional singers.

Every evening, we enjoyed a critique of artwork on the back patio of San Fedele.

Vini, Vidi, Vici.

We came. We saw. We painted. We shopped.

Italy: Part Two

Sadly, our time came to leave Vernazza. Sniff, sniff. I must post one more picture of my view of Vernazza here. We boarded the local train to La Spezia, hauling our heavy luggage down the stairs, then up the stairs, then down again, to the platform. There we found: a lift! After that, we sought elevators wherever we could. In La Spezia, we boarded a Eurostar train to Florence. We found the train system in Italy to be generally good: they are usually punctual, relatively clean and comfortable. Naturally, a first class cabin in the Eurostar is steps above the local trains, which only offer second class cabins and are not always air conditioned, which can be critical in the summer.

Each Italian city or town I visited seemed to have an entirely different "flavor." It was a little bit like gelato: Vernazza was the most delicious flavor of local lemon - it was small, cozy, tart and deliciously home made. Florence is a huge tourist town, so you probably won't find organic gelato here and the concoctions will appeal to tourists: banana or chocolate with vanilla swirl; Venice is exotic, so one can expect the most expensive, most unusual and dramatic flavors here - cherries steeped in liqueurs, drizzled in chocolate and topped with creams and strange nuts; Tuscany offers organic, wholesome, fresh, local: the melons, the licorice, the pure vanillas. So, when I travel, I try not to have rigid expectations and just think "un assaggio, per favore?" (A taste, please....)

Also, whenever and wherever I travel, I indubitably stumble upon "international" personalities. In Florence, I ran into Snookie, JWow and crew (why the heck are they considered personalities...ugh). In California, I ate in a restaurant and saw Julia Roberts, and in Las Vegas, Little Richard was getting into his car. Go figure.

As for Florence, it's a big city, it's rich, it has lots of gold in the museums and churches, it has a multitude of expensive shops and more well heeled shoppers than I have seen in a while AND it reminds me of NYC. If you get off the tourist trails, you'll make better deals in the shops, and get more of the feeling of .... well, just a darn big city with regular people. Bargain in the shops; it's expected. My favorite thing to do in Florence is SHOP and my favorite sights in Florence are the Accademia, where I could stand in front of Michaelangelo's "David" statue forever AND the lesser known Museum of San Marco, which is the monastery where Fra Angelico lived and served as one of the world's lesser known interior decorators, since he painted frescoes on the walls of each and every monk's cubicle, along with the ceilings.

While in Florence, I met up with some of my students and we enjoyed several meals together. On Saturday, we gathered at the train station, boarded a special bus and drove off to the sun kissed mountain tops of San Fedele in Tuscany, Italy. The trip took about 1 1/2 hours and rolled through "S" curves of breathtaking scenery. Tuscany looks like it does in the movies: it's a star. It's filled with antique stone walled houses and villages, curvy roads without railguards, those beautiful, pointy cypress trees, field after field of patchwork color, poppies, wild flowers, and row after row after row and mountain after mountain of GRAPE VINES.....