Notes & Supplies for participants in the Shils Landscape Master Class, SEDONA, 2010


The Structure of the Visual Moment




General Orientation:


During these three days outside we’ll concentrate on deepening and cultivating our visual sensibilities by looking critically at what is before out eyes, and painting with the loaded brush - aspiring to broad yet particular summations of form, naturalistic color and clarified visual mood.   Primary emphasis will be placed on 1) the perceptual processes in front of nature; 2) the editorial response that follows in the head of the painter, and 3) the way that perception translates into paint.  Rather than bringing home conventionally “finished” trophies ready for the marketplace,  I’d like to shake up and question  our conventional sense of “finish”, encourage visual excitement, and expand perceptual understanding. With painting, one never really gets the trophy anyway – it’s always a work in progress, a path, and a book being written and never quite complete.


Each morning I’ll talk for a bit, examining major visual themes in relation to paintings and drawings and each day there will be a painting demonstration usually right after lunch. The point of the demonstrations  is NOT to teach you how to make a painting from start to finish (which you can get from any number of  “how to” books, but not from me), nor to make one that looks like a Stuart Shils. But rather, to discuss and demonstrate perceptual craft as it relates to painting: 1) how to eliminate irrelevant distractions and think clearly about our approach to the visual encounter out of doors; 2) how to think conceptually, perceptually and technically about establishing a firm foundation and sense of order in the earliest stage of the painting; and 3) to consider the importance and place of drawing within the overall process of work.  PLEASE be on time each morning (if not even a bit early) so that we can get started right away.


The evening before the first day I will offer a 90 minute slide talk (The Perceptual Moment: The Nature of Perception and the Perception of Nature), examining the work of other painters (both past and present), to establish a foundation of visual concerns with which we will be dealing over the next days. This is required for all class participants, as I cannot go back over this information the next day!!!



With regard to specific individual needs, I will always do what I can  but obviously, this is a class, not a private tutorial.  For individuals whose needs are enormous and deviate radically from the group, please remember the context, there is just not enough time, and this is a group project.  However, I am there to work with each of you, and will ALWAYS respond to each participant in personal, particularized ways and address relevant issues as the work unfolds.




For some of you the following list may be unnecessary or ridiculous, but I just want to cover all bases for those perhaps fairly new to this pursuit of working outdoors. In any case, bring your usual collection of supplies, these are just my suggestions.





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Paint Surfaces: what to paint on?


During the three days we’ll paint on small ish to medium size panels, canvases, panels or prepared paper, trying to achieve perceptual resolution (resolution, as opposed to FINISH) in each sitting.  We’ll start a new painting each morning and each afternoon, pushing as far as possible for a “premier coup” as Edwin Dickinson called it (from the French), a “first strike” approach, or in Italian, alla prima (all at once). Maybe you will do more than one on some mornings/afternoons so please!, bring enough surfaces so as not to run out – better to have too many than too few.  My own preference for working small and quickly is for a relatively smooth surface so that everything sits with clarity on the surface and the brush can move with ease. On the other hand, some people work beautifully on rough canvas – so ultimately it’s very personal, and rough may have its own opportunities. (I love rough linen but one has to be able to load a mass of paint quickly to overcome the texture.) Bring a variety of sizes and shapes (both square and rectangular. Not just rectangular!  A strong canvas bag with handles (like the sort available from LL Bean) is perfect for hauling panels and other material.


Attention: in addition to painting surfaces for each day I want you to bring 10 - 15 pieces of gessoed paper between 8x 8 and 8 x 10 inches, roughly the size of a piece of copy paper so that we can work rapidly without feeling precious. Several coats of gesso on print or water color paper is fine. And, PUSH PINS or tape to attach them to a board of some kind while working.


Otherwise, your working surfaces must always be generous in size so that your brush has room to move rather than being miniaturized and cramped.  For your standard surfaces, in size, absolutely no less than a sheet of copy paper and that’s the smallest. But preferably larger, so you have lots of space to see what you’re doing.  I DON’T mean 30x 40 inches, which is really macho (unless you are very developed and can do that in one sitting) - but maybe things like (and they certainly do not have to be these sizes exactly): 11x13 or 14, 10x15, 15x15, , that sort of thing – whatever YOU can cover and work up comfortably in one session. But NOT tiny and precious.


If you want to work on smooth gessoed linen (which I highly recommend), the canvas need NOT be formally stretched.  Stapled or tacked to plywood or homosote is just fine. If it’s plywood you’re tacking to, a coat of shellac (that has had plenty of time to dry) keeps the wood well sealed.


Brushes:  Please DO NOT bring TINY LITTLE brushes.  In order to load paint generously you need good sized, strong tools, capable of moving the stuff around – not the kind of brush a Chinese drawing master in the 18th century would have used to paint a mouse whisker.  Always think about your brush size in relation to the paint surface size. Whatever kind of brush you are comfortable with (hog hair, nylon bristle, filbert, round, etc.), bring them, but please make sure they are not all #4’s.  I like the relatively cheap white nylon rounds with longish hairs, they load paint much differently than flats or filberts, but for large areas hog hair flats and filberts work well. Get to know what each brush will do.


If you are using smooth surfaces, the blonde hog hair stiff brushes do not work well, they are for canvas. Try instead cheap white nylon hairs, available almost everywhere. Rounds are very diverse in how they can be used to draw, much more so than square heads.






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Paint:  I’m NOT concerned with particular brands (you do NOT need Williamsburg or Old Holland to paint well), but you may want to have a useful selection/range of earth colors and prismatics:  an Earth Red (that could be Venetian Red, Indian Red, Pozzuoli Earth); a Quinacridone Red; and maybe a Permanent Red and Cad Red light or medium; Raw Sienna; Yellow Ochre; Yellow Ochre Pale, Indian Yellow (preferably Winsor and Newton); Permanent Yellow & Permanent Lemon; Hansa Yellow medium; Viridian; Cobalt Blue; Ultramarine; Cerulean Blue (not Cerulean Blue Hue which is a cheap version of real Cerulean); and Ivory Black.  I always prefer not too many greens already in the tube – better to follow Cezanne’s example – several yellows and several blues and learn to mix them up on the battlefield of the palette.  Right now, I use Viridian only in the summer, and generally no other greens. 


Please, absolutely, no Burnt Umber or Raw Umber   they are both mixed from processed dog turd. (In watercolor however, Raw Umber is a beautiful color.) 


As for White, we all may have our favorites and preferences, and please bring them if you do.  I recommend Permalba White (made by Weber and Co., and available from every catalog nationally) – a superb white – flexible, non-yellowing, and non-toxic.  It can also be mixed effectively with other things like Gamblin’s Flake White Replacement White (FWR), also HIGHLY recommended. Mix it with Permalba and that should go a long way.


The Palette:

I suggest the largest palette possible because you need room to make a mess and mix paint. At any hardware store you can buy ¼ inch plexiglass, in opaque white or put two coats of gesso on the underside and paint on the top. Have it cut so that it fills the drawer of your easel from top to bottom and the plexi usually come 23 or 24 inches wide, which is a good size. Bring a c clamp in case there is wind.


Drawing: I encourage you to bring several sketchbooks and some pencils or ink, whatever you are comfortable with for thinking visually on paper.  How can the painter think if not graphically?  Drawing before painting is a useful way to chart a course, establish a map/plan, plot out direction, intention and possibility.  I will talk about drawing each day and show a variety of reproductions.  A sketchbook should be part of your luggage or supplies wherever/whenever you go – for making notes, observations and visual ruminations of all sorts.  We should learn to think, reflect, dream and travel with pencil, brush, or stick of charcoal or pastel, whatever, in hand. Get some graphite pencils: 3B, 4B, 5B, 7B, 8B and a few erasers, maybe the rectangular pink ones.



For working outside, standard 100% mineral spirits will be fine, odor will not be an issue if we are outside.  You can bring a glass bottle  (a wine bottle with cork) to pour it into at the end of each session - the sediment will settle and it can be poured off and used again in a few days. Don’t forget a funnel. 


(For inside, ALWAYS use  Gamsol, it  really kills your brain less than other stuff.)



Brush cup: You need a decent sized brush cup for cleaning the brushes – not one of those tiny little palette clip - on cups. Jerrys or any other distributor carries a silver colored brush cup with the insert that has holes in it so that the sediment goes down to the bottom. You don’t need the giant size outside. But get a good one, usually about $30.00 ish dollars, and they last for many years. Unbreakable.


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Gloves: I always carry a box of disposable surgical type gloves (also available at hardware stores) vinyl NOT latex - latex is permeable when solvent is involved.  Protection of the hands and skin (and I’m not thinking cosmetically) is a personal issue, but, I always recommend wearing thin vinyl gloves to paint, no one needs unnecessary exposure to solvents or to the toxicity of some pigments.  An invisible glove cream like Winsor and Newton’s “Artguard” is also a possibility.


I use a glove available from Grainger Hardware (they have a website with an 800 number and you can call them directly, they deliver promptly via UPS. They offer a very fine and tough green glove made of nitrile (will last MUCH longer than what you get in the paint dept of a hardware store). I use a size medium, without powder. If you have small hands get small. You want a tight fit. They are about $15 or $17 a box of 100 and well worth it. Item number: 4GC49. Touch N Tuff, Powder Free Nitrile Gloves.


Easel:  You will of course need some kind of easel to hold your work in place - while a French landscape easel is convenient and practical, whatever you normally use outside will be fine.  And remember a folding chair if you sit down to work, which I do.




Paper Towels: Essential to the painter - my long-standing favorite is Bounty Microwave – they’re 100% cotton and each towel goes a long way.  Almost everything else is junk next to Bounty – if you cannot find the Microwave, anything Bounty makes will be OK, and the price is worth it. 


Misc: Don’t forget to bring plastic bags to put used towels and trash in – I use the ones from the supermarket trips or the sort that the Sunday paper comes in.


A broad brimmed hat is desirable to keep the sun out of your eyes and minimize strain; sunscreen!!, and don’t forget all the other accouterments of outdoor painting.  A fingernail brush or hand scrubber is good for washing up.


Mediums: I can talk about oil(s) when we meet.  Please bring whatever kind you’re most comfortable with – cold pressed linseed, stand oil, etc.  There will not really be time for experimentation with mediums, but I can attempt to answer any questions you may have. Basically though, the whole issue may be irrelevant for our purposes.  Much of it is hocus pocus.


Books:  For inspiring reading one cannot go wrong with,

1) The Art Spirit by Robert Henri,

2) Van Gogh’s Letters  (to his bother),

3) Hawthorne on Painting.  All are easily available in paperback and should be part of your essential art library at home and on the road – these are really fine books, like reading poetry.

Also, 4) Jack Flam’s, Matisse on Art is very good as well. A collection of Matisse’s thoughts, lectures, letters, etc.


Please feel free to contact me if there are any specific questions.



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