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Student Perspective: Samantha Howard on “Room with a View” Virtual Landscape Painting Marathon with Fran O’Neill

Before taking Room with a View Virtual Landscape Painting Marathon with Fran O’Neill, I had not done much landscape painting. In my own work, I consider myself a still life painter, but was drawn to this particular Marathon because of the implications of its title. In my recent work I had been increasingly exploring interiors as a means to expand upon the still life, so I found myself curious about how this course might inform my thinking and assist me in building my own definitions of my subject. I had also studied drawing with Fran previously and was eager to further my experience with her, as her manner of teaching is both deep and accessible.

As is consistent with all of my Marathon experiences, my pre-supposed approaches and practices were upended from day one.  This began with green. Green is a color I thought I was well familiar with and adept at mixing, yet immediately I was mixing versions and hues with colors I had not yet explored. As one who never uses black out of the tube, I quickly realized the great utility of both peach and ivory black, their seemingly subtle differences were quite the opposite! Never had it previously occurred to me to use blacks to concoct myriads of green, but this is just one small gem I found in Fran’s Marathon.   

As the Marathon continued, Fran had us work with limited palettes. Initially, I felt a bit flustered, at odds without the use of my standard and chosen colors. However, as time progressed, this proved to be an amazing exercise on several levels. While the immediate and more obvious lesson was that a narrower range in temperature can harmonize a painting, a greater lesson took a bit longer to reveal itself to me. On the fifth day of the Marathon, TA Madeleine Matsson presented a palette so whacky I thought I hated it.  How deceptive first reactions can be!

The frustration posed by this restricted palette ended up leading me to a place of deep invention, to a new freedom in my painting. Exasperation gives way to trial. It was precisely when I found myself thinking “I can’t do this; How the heck am I supposed to use THIS palette?” that foisted change. Once I reached this place, I let go of something, I abandoned whatever plan I had in mind. I took risks. I looked at shapes, not trees and rooftops in the offing. I then knew the painting was yet undetermined, no longer a product of my mind’s eye alone, but instead a discovery in the making. Frustration is not the enemy – quite the contrary. Instead it is a cue to do something different in the painting. What an incredible awareness to take with me back into the studio!

In the broadest sense, my perceptions about color made fundamental shifts. Much as I hate to admit it, it was in the throes of all of these color exercises that I reached a critical understanding; color is nothing until juxtaposed to another: it is only in this relation that it is activated. It hit me square between my eyes that the colors I mix- ANY color, no matter how glorious, on the palette can and will deceive me.  It will only reveal its truth upon the canvas when resting next to its neighbors. This hurt my pride! Color has always been my strength. This was a hard-wrought lesson coming to someone who has been painting for several years, but in fact a gift beyond measure to me. Now my work begins, now I must learn how to make these glorious colors not just depict, but converse and contrast – they must have a new dialogue. 

Finally, by the end of the Marathon, I came to redefine the very definition of the landscape. Through looking at and through my windows, I began to reinterpret my field of vision. Inspired by other artists such as Milton Avery and Lois Dodd, I started to look beyond my own mental windows. I remain indebted to Fran’s unique ability to balance challenge and pacing that allowed for a rich opportunity to reassess old approaches, recognize my blind spots, and grow. This Marathon, in keeping with those before it, returns me to a state of metamorphosis; old habits replaced with new practices and ideas. I am left with deep pools of resources found in process and look ahead with fertile ground for new roads of creativity. I may well remain a painter of the still life, but I am certain my work will morph into something different than before – and what could be more exhilarating? To bear witness to change in my own work – that is why I study art. So I may always continue to realize myself as a painter. 

Ignorance is shown when repeating actions and habits after learning of their deficiencies. I am extremely grateful to Fran and to Madeleine for enlightening me to those of my own that no longer serve me. I thank myself for having the willingness to go look for them. I remain eternally grateful to the New York Studio School and its extraordinary curricula and faculty that continue to serve as my compass. With every Marathon, my toolbox increases – these tools permanent additions to serve my life as an artist. It is only through painting that we understand how to paint; I am so grateful to the painters helping me in my journey. As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded I must return to the easel today, tomorrow, and the day after. It is in this ongoing commitment that we may understand our endeavor.   

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