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Student Perspective: Liz ZJ Li on “Room with a View” Virtual Landscape Painting Marathon with Fran O’Neill

­Room with a View: Zoom with Magic

More than Painting

The 2021 Virtual Painting Marathon “Room with a View” with Fran O’Neill was not just about painting. The two-week intensive program opened so many doors for me: playing with color, bringing life to brushwork, designing a journey on canvas, being empowered to walk out of comfort zone, exploring different styles and so much more. On top of all these, the Painting Marathon restored and revived me: it brought me back to my beloved oil painting, thus brought me back to life. It was magic.

Doors were opened.

The Door of Color Mixing

“Fresh out of the tube” colors were my favorite: everyone from the cadmium family, together with cobalt blue, cerulean, magenta … They are bright, lively, vibrant, and you cannot go wrong with them. Monday morning on June 21, 2021, the first class of the Marathon, Fran asked everyone to spend time mixing greens. I was reluctant at the beginning: what would mixing greens bring if there are already so many ready to use greens from the tube? However, since everyone was doing that, I slowly started… Twenty minutes passed, I was so absorbed in mixing colors: there are unlimited possibilities to invent new colors, even a tiny bit more peach black would bring a new green, let along there is the ivory black…

Yes, I ignored color study though I thought myself a “colorist”. What an illusion! Would you think one may become a colorist without studying color? One hour into the Marathon, my mind was blown. I started to realize the power of color study and color mixing could become my daily fresh start prior to painting.

The Door of Limited Palette

Andre Derain, Lin Fengmian, David Hockney… I love them for the vibrant colors and life in their works. “Colorful” for me, meant the more color, the merrier. The second day into the Marathon, only limited sets of colors were allowed. I struggled a bit, for it felt like being deprived of freedom. Then I was pushed to really think about color mixing, to design and create colors, and think through complementary colors. A new world was revealed: for first time I started to understand limited palette, complementary colors, and contrast of saturation… how ignorant I was, just 24 hours ago!

We live in a world conditionally, but we may create unconditional realm with limited color in life.

AM & PM painting in progress, with limited palette

The Door of Magic – You Never Know What to Expect

I am so appreciative to Fran and Madeleine for “inviting” Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Inka Essenhigh, and more, to the Painting Marathon. They guided me into a field – Painting with Imagination, which I ignored before. I didn’t even consider it to be art, I thought it was quite mechanical.

To my surprise, on the fifth day of the Painting Marathon, I was deeply touched by a series of landscape paintings with imagination, and I started to wonder what I could do to create a surreal world on canvas.

The plants in my living room, quietly sitting in a corner as decorations – what do they think, don’t they want to break the boundaries, and travel as freely as they want? Are they just settled to be the ignorable decorations, or rather, do they prefer to take it over and dominate the space?

The lifeless, boring, 80s/90s style buildings that block my view and cause eyesore every day, what if they actually have lives, like “organically” formed mountains, then I actually live in the nature, and I can make typical “The mountain & water (山水 Shan Shui)” landscape painting from observation? Indeed, they are mountains made of glass and bricks!

Restore, Revive, and Empower

No More Excuses

Since the pandemic began I had barely been out, and I had not touched my brushes for months. I had many excuses to justify this, and yet the TA reshaped my “pandemic” mindset in just a few minutes. What excuse would I have when someone took public transport, went to a grave yard (less populated) every day, during the outbreak of pandemic so that she could paint plein air! 

I packed and went out on day 6. It was such a breakthrough: I have longed to paint the roots – they are mesmerizing, they showcase what is perseverance, and strength of life. This is my first ever painting made outdoor since the pandemic, my first ever painting about the root. Thanks to the encouragement, I feel myself grounded. I feel the time exists. I see the image of time standing before me when I paint the tree root. What a life, a life that endures hundreds of lightening and fulmination. Beneath the tree, I listen to the psithurism as I am walking into the tree’s realm.

The Real Journey Starts

Feeling motivated and inspired, I not only went out, but also took a trip to a nearby island to paint in Week 2.

Nature scenes greatly refreshed my mind and enriched my palette. Because of Week 1 warm up, I saw brushworks and mixing of paints everywhere: in the sky, on the grass, in the shadows…. I was living in paintings.

My outdoor studio.

During the Painting Marathon, I was inspired to push my boundaries a bit more: landscape is already out of my comfort zone, and I usually do “portrait” of something: portrait of a plant, portrait of a boat, etc…  thinking through all the works that the instructor and the TA had shown, I decided to make a “big picture” view. During the process, the composition, and palette totally revamped several times. 

The idea of picking someone’s pallet and painting from it greatly inspired me as well. For the last painting made in the Painting Marathon, Van Gogh’s rain painting guided me through. And luckily, there was a rain last day of the Marathon! The rain seemed want to watch my painting and join our team. She visited the island in the last day of the Painting Marathon.

And beyond Painting…

I am so grateful for NYSS Registrar Amber Duntley’s recommendation, and that she and the School offered me flexibility and accepted my last-minute application. This Painting Marathon restored and revived me entirely!

I am deeply appreciative for Fran’s creative course design! Without her guidance, encouragement, and inspiration, I would still be stuck with an old mindset of art appreciation and way of painting. During the Painting Marathon, there were countless breakthroughs that I could not have achieved on my own. My eyes started to perceive objects in a new way: I see color mixing everywhere! I am so thankful for Fran and the way she cultivated the color mixing culture!

A big shout out to TA Madeleine Matsson, she listened and brought ideas and solutions, conceptually and technically. If not for her encouragement, I may not have gone out to paint; if not for her support and inspiration, I may still be struggling with some key concepts and ideas, not to mention, I didn’t even know how to travel to paint before the Marathon! I really appreciate her support, patience, inspiration, and guidance.

Last but not least, a big THANK YOU to my painting mates, from whom I have learned so much: painting subjects, styles, composition, palette design, and most importantly, do not put down brushes, the 80s are still for painting!

Thank you, my dear Painting Marathon, it is because of you that I created beautiful art and experienced new life again; thank you, my dear Painting Marathon, it is you that brought friends to me: the nature, the instructors, and painting mates. What a creative community connected via you, my dear Painting Marathon! And thank you, my dear Painting Marathon, because of you, I feel free and revived again since the pandemic!

Enjoy painting.


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