Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Little Girl Dreams"

Little Girl Dreams is a 20x10 oil done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.
Little Girl Dreams is on its way to the Best and the Brightest juried show at the Scottsdale Artists School. I participated last year and am delighted to have the opportunity to do so again in 2013.
For me, this is an extra special painting. My daughter plans to marry this year and of course, painting a young and lovely girl in a bridal gown made me think of my own girl, and of her plans and dreams. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chasing Shadows

Summer Lighting is an oil done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
I’ve written about the backlit, about a Degas sort of stagelight and of course, cool, even north light, the standby of every artist. But I haven’t written a thing about one of the favorite lights for painters… dappled light.
Painters and dappled light have something of a love/hate relationship. We love that beautiful play of light and shadow which speaks to the very nature of visual reality. But we can hate it because its effects are so very hard to capture in paint.  Painting dappled light in plein air is like trying to trap sunlight in a bottle. Just when you think you’ve got it, it changes. What was in shadow is in light and what was light is shadowed.
It’s an almost irresistible temptation to chase the light (a plein air painting no-no).
For a truly exquisite tour de force of dappleness, take a look at Renoir’s Ball at the Moulin de la Galette or The Swing.  He not only did a masterful job of rendering dappled light, he managed to capture the feel and movement inherent in that light and shadow dance.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What Makes a Painting Intimate?

It isn’t that a painting is physically small or that it shows someone, or something, that is delicate and tiny. It’s not that its subject is a domestic scene, like a woman in her bath or putting up her hair.
Of course, all those ingredients can give a painting a feeling of intimacy. But none of them are essential to create an intimate painting.
I think what is necessary is a sense that the viewer is looking into a private world. Renoir’s little knitter, Georges de la Tours’ Mary Magdalene and Andrew Wyeth’s Christina offer the viewer glimpses into private spaces and private thoughts… sometimes thoughts not intended to be shared.      
Looking over Her Shoulder is a 20x10 oil done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tree Portraits

Mighty Oak is an 8x8 oil done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.  
Painting a tree is a bit like painting a portrait. In a portrait, the artist usually tries to catch both the essence and the likeness of the subject. Trees, especially as they age, seem to develop their own “essence,” their own character, if you will.
To paint such a tree is to paint a subject that is very much a distinct being, unduplicated, even in a forest of trees!   
To see what I mean, you might visit the website of Tennessee artist, Charles Brindley. He has painted many beautiful, aged trees; each Brindley tree is a one-of-a-kind; each is a beautiful portrait.
(My Mighty Oak lives on a nearby golf course and I think has character to spare.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Archangel is a 24x36 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
A couple of posts ago, I put up an invitation to a juried show I am delighted to be in. Above, you see my painting from the show.
It was done primarily from my imagination which is quite different from my usual. (I normally work from life or from several photo references.) Though I’ve literally painted hundreds of faces, with his, it was very hard to achieve even the vaguest facsimile of what I wanted.
I wanted to paint, an intimidating, otherworldly creature who was, at the same time, very corporeal. I thought I knew just what I wanted; I thought I saw, in my head, my entire painting.
I had an instructor who once said that artists often think they imagine their complete paintings and that they think what they see in their mind’s eye only needs to be put down on canvas. He went on to say that they really are picturing only parts and shadows of paintings in their heads, not the whole at all.
And so it was with me. I know I saw shadows only… archangels are elusive. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Best of America

I was delighted when my painting Band of Brothers was accepted into the 2012 Best of America national juried show.
And now I’m even happier because it won an Award of Merit! You can see the other award winners and as well as the entire show by visiting the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society (NOAPS).  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Divine Figure

It’s a different sort of show for me… a different sort of juried show. It’s all about the figure, my favorite subject; but it’s about the divine figure which puts my favorite subject in a very different light.
So I did the biggest representational painting I’ve ever done, and I did it largely from my imagination.
Imagining isn’t at all like working from life or even from photo references. 
If you’re near, the artists’ reception is Sunday, October 28th, from 3 to 5 at the Marnie Sheridan Gallery in The Harpeth Hall School, 3801 Hobbs Road, Nashville, Tennessee. If you can’t make the reception, the exhibit Saints, Goddesses and Bodhisattvas will be on view through December 14th.
I’ll post my painting for the show soon. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just after Dark

Radnor After Dark is an 11x14 oil done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
I’ve found two contemporary painters who create nocturnes of great beauty, mystery and power. California painter, John Cosby and Maryland’s Hiu Lai Chong chose as their subjects, the landscapes of today’s America, and sometimes the landscapes are shown after dark. I read about both in the latest Plein Air issue and was very impressed by their work, especially the night landscapes.
I can’t say I was inspired to do my own night-time painting by either one of them. The Chestnut Group has been painting the moon over Radnor Lake for at least a couple of years. And I finally joined the group in the moonlight. But I can say I loved doing it…loved the speed I had to paint, loved being surrounded by the night. Didn’t love the mosquitoes but then I didn’t notice them while I was painting. Only heard their hum after I was done! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Reluctant Tonalist...

Pearly Gray Morning is an 8x10 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Reluctant is probably not the best adjective here. I’m really not reluctant at all; I like tonalism. Two of my favorite painters, George Inness and James McNeill Whistler, were in the main tonalists. 
It’s simply not my natural way to paint. My instinctive painting style tends to run the value gamut so it’s rather dramatic and to push color so its hues are not subdued.
But I also like to try things out, especially if I admire them; and I love the harmony, poetic feeling and atmospherics that tonalism can create.
My attempt at the tonal, Pearly Gray Morning, is a part of the Love the Lake show now on view from Friday, October 5, to Monday, October 8, at the Radnor Lake Nature Center, 116 Otter Creek Road, Nashville, Tennessee. Drop by the park and see the show. A big chunk of the proceeds benefits Radnor Lake.
[For definitions of value and tonalism, please visit the Artful Definitions page.]  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Time after Time...

Water Music is an 8x10 oil don in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.

About once every 18 months, the Chestnuts (my plein air group) paint many, many paintings of Nashville’s little gem, Radnor Lake. We then put those paintings on sale with a chunk of the proceeds going to benefit the park at Radnor. 
I joined in the paint-a-thon, of course and painted the babbling brook you see above. It depicts Otter Creek, a stream that flows into and then out of Radnor Lake. About two thirds of the way through my painting, I realized that I had painted the same stream from the same spot about 18 months before. 
This time the brook babbled and sang; last time, it was a dry creek filled with debris from prior flooding. Both times that very spot had a tremendous appeal to me as a painter. I have no words to explain why. Maybe the painting can.    
If you live nearby, please come see our show, Love the Lake Art Show, Friday Oct. 5 through Monday October 8, at the Radnor Lake Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Road in Nashville, Tennessee. Times are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on the last day when the show closes at 3. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

"The Long Light"

The Long Light is an 8x10 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla.

“The long light shakes across the lakes
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer echoes dying, dying, dying.”
 The Splendor Falls
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tennyson is no longer a popular poet. He’s often thought of as too easy and not intellectual enough.
I agree that he’s not particularly cerebral, but I don’t think he’s easy. His poetry seems easy because it flows beautifully, the very sound of it echoing its meaning.  And though his meanings may not be intellectually challenging, they are universal.  For instance, the poem quoted is about much more bugles and echoes. Read it and see.
My painting, The Long Light, was done at Nashville’s Radnor Lake in the golden hour just before twilight. It’s destined for the Love the Lake Art Show to benefit the Lake.
The show happens October 5 through 8 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except the last day which ends at 3) at Radnor Lake Visitor Center, 1160 Otter Creek Rd., Nashville, Tennessee.  
If you can, come see the show.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"Where No Golf Ball Should Go"

Where No Golf Ball Should Go is a 14x11 plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
This is part of Hole 6 on the Canyon Course of SuperiorNational in Lutsen, Minnesota. Looks like untamed wilderness, right? Well, this part of the course as it follows Poplar Creek is wild, intimidating and yes, untamed. It’s made up of rushing water, tall firs and jumbled boulders.
I’m no golfer but I can attest that the balls that land in this stretch of Poplar aren’t playable. And because the t-box is on one side; the green on the other and the stream is down, down, down in between; plenty of balls plonk in the stream. I watched quite a few make the splash as I painted. A couple even ricocheted in.
My husband, the golfer, was playing the Canyon, and Superior National kindly allowed me to paint as he played. (His ball did not land in the water.)  So we both had a great time.   

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Good Morning, North Shore!"

Good Morning, North Shore! is an 8x10 oil on linen done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.

As you may know from reading this blog, I’m a big advocate of painting in your own backyard, i.e. in your own home territory. This is because to me, the familiar, the ordinary hold a great potential for both beauty and meaning. You simply don’t need to wander too far afield to find the marvelous; it’s waiting for you just around the corner. With that said, today’s painting is not in my backyard… it’s in my friends’ backyard up in Cook County, Minnesota.
Cook County is this beautiful place that bumps up to the Canadian border, skirts the north shore of Lake Superior and contains a chunk of the huge Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. 
And my friends own a little piece of it! Lucky friends! Lucky us,we got to visit... and it was somebody's backyard! 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Women In Hats with Flowers Revisited...

Behind the Flowers is a 24x12 oil done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.
[For my other woman in a hat with flowers, please visit this post.]
I found this particular hatted female quite appealing to paint because I loved the monochrome nature of her. Her dress, flowers, table, her very skin were all variations of one warm neutral color.
Going with one predominate hue in a work (a monochrome) is one way to set a mood in a painting. (In prior post, I wrote about setting a mood by using high key-values.)
The moody James MacNeill Whistler often painted using variations of one color. He did rich nocturnes, awash in mystery and deep, cool blues or purples. He did painting after painting of women wearing white and surrounded by white backgrounds, very ethereal, very pristine.
Cecilia Beau used monochrome as well. She did it because it not only set a mood; it also made those beautiful portrait faces of hers stand out. Her gorgeously painted heads would be the warmest, highest chroma spots in an expanse of gray or even lavender.
Now after writing all this about mood and monochrome, I really can’t say what mood is set by my painting. Perhaps I could say mysterious… just what is she watching so intently from behind those flowers?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Skimming the Surface of Things...

Pocket Venus is a 12x9 oil done in open studio on prepared cardboard by Shirley Fachilla.

The surfaces we use to paint upon are hedged around with rules. There are so many in part because our paints are quite destructive to those surfaces. Over time, oil paint is corrosive; put it on unprepared canvas or paper, and the oil will one day eat it up.
Because we, artists, want our work to last, we usually try to use properly prepared surfaces and materials. But not always…
Leonardo de Vinci was notorious for breaking most of the rules with disastrous results. Just take a look at his peeling Last Supper. (He was trying a new fresco technique.) He ignored the rules because he was always experimenting. Constable at times painted on the back of accounting paper because he thought the work was just a study and of no account (pun intended). Other artists have ignored them because they were broke. Cardboard and paper are almost always cheaper than canvas or linen.
And then sometimes artists use unconventional surfaces because we really, really like the way they work. Cardboard is a rich, warm, midtone brown, a delightful color to paint upon. Both cardboard and paper absorb oil from the paint and by doing so produce a wonderful soft matte finish… never shiny.
Did Degas and Toulouse Lautrec use oil on paper for frugality or because they simply loved the surface? Don’t know. I do know that many of their works on the wrong surface still exist, quite beautifully I might add, either because curators are adept at preservation or perhaps because the rules have been overstated. 
Breaking the rules… it’s just what we artists sometimes do! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Give Me an Outline of That Proposal...

"Contour" drawing from life by Shirley Fachilla.

My illustration is not exactly on point. She did begin as a contour drawing done from life, but I had too much time before the next pose was struck so I added a bit of line shading and corrected some of my lines by drawing over. Nonetheless I think it conveys the general notion of contour drawing, a concept introduced to me by Peggi Kroll Roberts.

(I did not attend art school so there are many techniques and skills I’m still discovering.)

To do a proper contour drawing, the artist simply follows the contour of the figure, no shading, all line. When it works, the artist ends up with an understandable drawing, i.e. first, it’s identifiable as a person; second, the position of that person in space makes visual sense; third, there is a feeling of volume and mass.

Normally, contour drawing is not an end unto itself though there are exceptions. Unlike other gesture drawings that are often framed and hung, contour drawings usually remain exercises or studies that form the basis for other works.

Why do them? To train your hand and eye to work together, to work without conscious thought. Ideally when contour drawing, you look at the figure and almost never at your paper. (You don’t go back and shade or correct!) I found using a pen made me commit to my line rather than treating it as a gesture drawing. 

Because I see mostly in shape rather than line, I expected to hate contour drawing. But actually I love it despite my less than elegant results! 

This blog almost never discusses drawing again because I tend to see shape rather than line. But for some exquisitely beautiful work you might visit pages devoted to Jean-Antoine Watteau or Gustav Klimt. Like Van Gogh, they were excellent draughtsmen, each in his own very individual way. Van Gogh set out to teach himself to draw, but that’s another story, and I’ve already wandered from my initial subject!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Are You Ready Yet?

Slow-Poke Cowpoke is a 14x18 oil done from life during the Peggi Kroll workshop by Shirley Fachilla.

I’ve heard it often and I’m sure you’ve heard it too… you learn when you’re ready to learn and not before. This little maxim, of course, applies to everyone, not just to artists. But it seems especially germane when applied to the lessons one hopes to learn in an art workshop.
It helps explain why some workshop experiences are pivotal and others not so much. For me, my Carolyn Anderson sessions were pivotal. I was ready, not just for her insights into skills and techniques but also for her philosophy of art and “visual language.”  
I was ready for Peggi Kroll as well and didn’t even know it! Yes, I was excited because it concentrated on the figure and yes, I was thrilled because I would see her very distinctive technique in process. But that’s not what I was ready for.
I was ready to hear, really hear about value, about limiting value, about value massing and about using only high key value to make a statement. Finding out about notan from another great teacher, Dawn Whitelaw had been part of my preparation. But mostly my prep was spending time painting and thinking about how and what I was painting, not working slowly (because I don’t!) but painting thoughtfully.
I’ve discovered that it’s good to be just a bit of a slowpoke myself! 
[For the meaning of notan, value, high-key and value massing, please visit my Artful Definitions.]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lighten up Already!

Some Light Reading is a 14x18 oil done in plein air by Shirley Fachilla.

Impressionists were noted for making happy paintings filled with color. They have been praised for the joy and beauty of their landscapes, for their luscious harmonious colors and the freshness that just pops off the canvas. 
But as painters are fond of saying, [Impressionist] color may get the credit but value does the work.
Impressionism conveys such joy and light because the Impressionists painted in a high key. Their colors seem so clear and beautiful; their work so fresh and sunny in part because they used a light and limited value range. There are very few darks in most Monets. He is a painter of light in quite another way than that other more recent guy!
For the above painting, I used the Peggi Kroll Roberts technique to value shift to a lighter and thus more cheery value range. Another plus: it’s not only a way to make things happier, but it also works to suggest the look and feel of a sunlit outdoor world... which is quite probably why the Impressionists chose to lighten things up!
[Please see “high key” and “value” in Artful Definitions for a better appreciation of this post.] 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Peggi Kroll Roberts and a Way to Change Your Values

(I’m talking about values in art, not finance or morals!)

For this post, it would be good to look up value, form and grey day painting in Artful Definitions.

I tend to have almost the full value range (from practically black to almost white) in my paintings. It’s what comes naturally for me. Other painters may instinctively paint with a lighter palette and not go near the very darks. Still others stay in a narrow value range of medium tones with very few extreme lights or darks.
Being able to change what comes naturally (when it comes to values) is a new concept for me, one introduced by the Peggi Kroll Roberts workshop. Peggi gave me a way to lighten and tighten my value range.
It works sort of like a musician playing a piece a couple of octaves higher. It’s the same song but it sounds different. Lighten values, and it may be the same subject but it will look and feel different.
In Peggi’s technique, basically you start with a mid-value color as the darkest dark in one’s painting. To create form in the dark passages, you use color shifts rather than value shifts.
The above painting was done in the workshop and has no value darker than mid range.
Next time I’ll explore why controlling value in this way is a very good thing.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peggi Kroll Roberts and Her Exercise in Notan

I just took a Peggi Kroll Roberts workshop and this post is about our favorite exercise, an exercise intended to prove the importance of value… an exercise based on the concept of notan.
[To see the definition of both value and notan, visit the Artful Definition page.]
For some background information, the three day workshop was figurative with one day of still life and the other two devoted to the human figure. I was very excited to attend because figurative workshops are somewhat rare and because I really like Peggi’s beautiful simplified figures.
Value is one of the essential tools of the representational artist. And Peggi’s exercise demonstrated this point superbly. In it, we were to paint the human figure from life in 20 minutes using only two colors, one dark and one light. We would use the dark color to paint everything in shadow and the light color to paint everything that was lit. 
We could paint with any two colors we wanted as long as one was much darker than the other. This made it fun. We had only one decision to make: what was in shadow and what was in light. This made it easy… which of course, made it more fun!
At the end of the 20 minutes, we all had paintings that “read” (i.e. paintings of totally recognizable subjects even though stripped both of detail and of realistic color).  It was visual proof of the preeminence of value over color. The color absolutely didn’t matter; the values absolutely did!  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Girls in White Dresses...

Her Mother’s Wedding Dress is a 24x24 oil done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.

White is much beloved by artists. We paint white horses, houses, shirts, clouds, laundry and yes, white dresses. Why do we love it so? Perhaps because white isn’t ever really white.
I don’t mean this in a moral sense (as in nothing is ever black or white) nor as a gauge of innocence (as in white as the driven snow).  I mean it very literally. In representational painting (with the exception of the medium of watercolor where the white paper can itself becomes the lightest value), nothing is ever actually white. It’s white with a touch of color, sometimes the barest touch, but color nonetheless.
And the shadows of a white object are wonderful because they become blue, pink, violet, green and even occasionally, actually grey.
Artists can paint a kaleidoscope of tints and hues all while painting something supposedly white. What could be more fun than that!
Her Mother’s Wedding Dress is only one among many girls in white dresses that I’ve painted. I hope to paint many more.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

No Land in Sight

 Early Morning Sea Foam is a 10x8 plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
I’ve been researching seascapes for more than a year, ever since I knew I would be going to Maine to paint. Being from landlocked Tennessee, I needed to see how other painters had approached painting the ocean.
It’s a year later, I’m long back from Maine; but I’m still finding wonderful marine artists.
I’ve already blogged about the seascapes of Californian William Ritschel. This spring, I was in total awe of contemporary Ray Roberts and his seascape that took the grand prize at the California Art Club. And now I’ve discovered the stunning work of John Fredrick Kensett.
Kensett was a part of the second generation of Hudson River Valley artists. He was a Luminist like another favorite of mine, Sanford Gifford.  But while Gifford concentrated upon the mountains, Kensett painted the ocean. He painted it lyrically, poetically. In the last year of his life, he often painted it as sea, sky and light and nothing more… for nothing more was needed.   
My painting above is a plein air done in the rather early morning in Maine. After I saw some Kensett’s, and learned some watery lessons from them, I redid Sea Foam, so it, too, could try to be all about the sky, the sea and the light.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"In Open Studio"

In Open Studio is a 20x16 oil on linen done in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.

Burt Silverman is a marvelous representational artist. His subjects run the gamut: still life, portrait, landscape, with figure and portraiture as his forte. Art lovers in Nashville, Tennessee are now fortunate to have a gallery that represents Mr. Silverman. The new Haynes Gallery in Nashville, just had a Silverman one-man show.  
Understandably as a figurative painter myself, my favorites in the exhibit were his figurative works, especially his drawings. Often done from life, they offer wonderful fluidity coupled with great precision. Mr. Silverman knows the human body very well indeed.
At last Monday’s open studio, our wonderful model struck a Silverman sort of pose. It was so much fun to paint with arms, legs, head, torso all offering a different angle, a different foreshortening challenge.
[For the meaning of foreshortening, see Artful Definitions.]  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Plain Sight...

Come Sit with Me is a 6x8 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla.
Nashville plein air painters are extremely fortunate to have an exhibit of Constable oil sketches on view at the Frist. On loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, we are one of the exhibit’s only two venues in the States.
I love Constable, especially his sketches, which have a freshness and spontaneity that is so appealing to 21st century eyes.  Of course, in his day, that fresh fluidity was denigrated and called unfinished by the critics.
Our show features a couple of full size oil sketches, a very wonderful one done in preparation for the artist’s iconic Hay Wain. But most of the works are small, plein air pieces done before the Impressionists, at a time when almost no one painted outside from life.
These days, plein air artists travel far and wide for subjects but not Constable. He painted from a very small slice of English landscapes. He knew that the very best places to paint are in plain sight and right in our own backyards. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

Desiring a State of Grace is a 24x12 oil done from life by Shirley Fachilla.

Andrew Wyeth was once asked what about his art would have displeased his painter father. Andrew answered that N.C. often criticized his greyed down colors and his lack of narrative. Of course, Andrew’s father, N.C., was a famous illustrator and for him, a narrative in his paintings was essential. 

Paradoxically, Andrew was often been berated by the art establishment for the anecdotal nature of his work. It would be hard to argue that his most famous painting Christina’s World is not telling a story. But does Brown Swiss really have a narrative? Perhaps the narrative element in a painting is often in the eye of the beholder. Afterall, Andrew thought of himself as an abstractionist, not a teller of tales.  

Desiring a State of Grace seems to me to have an implicit story. But my husband says the subject of the painting needs to have a book, letter, box, or a something to give it… well, a narrative.  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Three Days in the Park

 A Day in the Park is a 12x9 plein air oil by Shirley Fachilla done on the first day of a three day plein air workshop.

Last week, I spent three days in Nashville’s Percy Warner Park in a painting workshop taught by Stapleton Kearns. We were encouraged to paint big and to think out of the plein air box. 
Stape paints big; he paints long; he even sometimes (usually a major no-no in plein air) chases the light. [See Artful Definitions.]
Stapleton Kearns is an unusual plein air artist. His pieces are highly finished with most of his work done out-of-doors and done big by plein air standards. His usual size is 18x24 inches. Plein air pieces can often be as small as 5x7.
Kearns did other out-of-the-box things like painting a crashing wave seascape from imagination, memory and the knowledge gained from a great deal of prior seascape painting.
It was an interesting, instructive three day adventure. If you’d like a sample of Stapleton Kearns and his way of plein air thinking, just visit his blog.

P.S. A Day in the Park is very much my style of painting and nothing like a Stapleton Kearns! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New and Improved

Bookish, Nashville Downtown Public Library  is an 18x14 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Above is the new and improved version. The earlier version is below.

Bookish was first painted four years ago. I had liked it enough to frame and show it… briefly!  I pulled it out recently for a show because I was running low on both inventory and the time to create more.

I still liked it but I could see lots of room for improvement. The basic composition was okay, that and the figure in the distance. As a gesture, he worked. 

I remembered something Dawn Whitelaw said in her workshop, when “fixing” a painting, start with one thing that you know how to fix. Correcting that can be a key to the other things that might need help in a painting. I knew that in Bookish the value of the sky was too dark.

It was an easy fix, and it showed me where the other values were that needed to be changed: windows, corner of the building in the left foreground and the boring, but attention-grabbing, building in the back. After lightening the sky, these values were all easy fixes.

Here’s the original before it got its high key work-up.

[For the meanings of gesture, high key and value visit Artful Definitions.]

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"A River Runs Through It"

Okra and Zinnias is an 8x10 plein air by Shirley Fachilla.
The Chestnut Group, plein air painters for the land, is having another sale and exhibit for the Nature Conservancy’s work in preserving the Duck River. The show has a lovely name, A River Runs Through It. Above is one of my efforts for the event.
It's of a marvelous garden that perhaps could only exist in Middle Tennessee. The garden is enclosed in a beautifully crafted mortarless stone fence; inside, there’s a riot of zinnias on one side and orderly vegetable rows on the other. (The ones you can see are staked okra plants.) Where but in Tennessee would you find such a mix of elegance and down-home fixings!
A River Runs Through It is happening on May 18 from 10 to 7 and May 19 from 10 to 4 in the Parish Hall of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Columbia, Tennessee (one of the most beautiful old churches in the area).  My painting is one of 245! There’s a lot to see. I hope some of you can make it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Notion of "Notan"

The Big House is a plein air oil, 6x6, by Shirley Fachilla.

Back in the late 1800’s, the Impressionists discovered Japanese art. They loved it. They were captivated by the different approach to seeing that Japanese art presented. Today for me, the love affair continues.  Thanks to Dawn Whitelaw, I’ve discovered “notan.”  The Japanese notion of notan promises to be a wonderful method to navigate the difficulties of value. [For the definition of value, see Artful Definitions.]
Notan divides a painting into light and dark. Yes, only two values… what a concept!
In the West of course, paintings with only two values are few and far between. But tweak the idea a bit (allow a medium light and maybe a medium dark) and notan becomes a compass for navigating the shoals of value, especially outdoors, by limiting and coalescing.
Dawn Whitelaw introduced notan during a class for the Chestnut Group here in Nashville and gave me, along with my classmates, a marvelous tool for seeing.  She’s presenting the idea again. at workshops given by the Plein Air Painters of the Southeast.   Dawn’s a beautiful artist and a great teacher. I’m sure those lucky students will find her class as helpful as I did.   

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Almost Cheesecake"

Almost Cheesecake is a 24x22 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Almost Cheesecake was painted in a bit less than four hours in my Monday Open Studio. (I finished up the background after I got home.)
While I was painting it, I was working out several important things. 
1. composition: I had to alter the dimensions of my canvas to accommodate the design I thought best.
2. values: I wanted the form and shape of her all-white dress to read properly but also to retain color and life.
3. negative space: I had set up the composition to make the negative space a crucial element and I needed to fill it nicely.  
Only after it was done, did I realize her pose was a classic for beauty contestants modeling their one-piece bathing suits in the 50’s... thus the title, Almost Cheesecake.
For the rest of this month and until June 22, Almost will be on view in the national juried art show held in Nashville every year, the Central South Art Exhibition at the Tennessee Art League, 808 Broadway. Hope you can come and take a look.
[For a definition of value, composition and negative space, visit Artful Definitions.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Painting Ourselves

In a Green Shade is a 24x12 oil on linen by Shirley Fachilla.
Artists love to paint painters. They paint portraits of themselves painting, their friends painting; heck, they paint acquaintances and perfect strangers painting. It’s usually the activity that’s the real subject, not the person.
As far back as the 17th century, Rembrandt and Vermeer were painting themselves in the act. Of course, they had a reason. Each of their “painting self portraits” was a demonstration of technique and skill. Both paintings probably hung in the studio and were intended to impress potential clients.
The Impressionists were also continually painting one another with brushes in hand. In their case, I think it was mainly that they were all out together working “en plein air” and injecting a figure in the landscape added more of a challenge.
We’re still at it today. But now, sometimes the painter and his feelings are the true subject, rather than the activity.  In the above painting, it was the art effort I wanted to capture. The painter is an acquaintance, a fellow member of the Chestnut Group, and is totally engrossed in applying that next important brushstroke.  
The canvas is in the Corse Gallery in the inaugural WPSE exhibit. If you’re around Jacksonville, Florida during the month of May, you might drop by to see.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"If Thinking Could Make It So"

If Thinking Could Make It So is a 18x14 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.

The lovely girl pictured here is the same model as my preceding post. This is not such a grand likeness, but actually, it wasn’t intended to be.
This one is really all about mood and shadows. Sometimes in open studio, you can almost feel the model thinking… thinking about something that really matters. And then sometimes you can see the model almost fall asleep!
At present, this painting is on its way to the Women Painters of the Southeast inaugural juried show at the Corse Gallery in Jacksonville Florida
I would like to thank my excellent painter friend, Brenda Morley, for liking my painting and telling me so. Without her encouragement, I probably wouldn’t have thought to submit it. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Detail of Likeness, a 24x12 oil by Shirley Fachilla done in open studio. 
I paint in an open studio every Monday with a live model. Because I’m not really a portrait painter and because I’m trying mostly for a good painting, my work often does not end as a good “likeness.” This time, however, I think the likeness is there, at least physically.
But though it captures her look, it doesn’t show the real girl. It doesn’t reflect her sweetness, her gentle nature, her patience…the list could go on! In some of my other paintings of her, it seems to me that those un-seeable attributes are quite apparent.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to combine the two, the likeness and the inner person. It’s certainly something to strive for.
When faulted for not achieving a “likeness,” John Singer Sargent  famously commented that in a hundred years, the lack of a likeness wouldn’t matter at all. No one would know; no one would care. It was a good “painting” and that would grant both the painting (and the sitter) their portion of immortality.  

Monday, April 2, 2012


 Working from a photo for me is a process of evolution. Unfortunately, I find it easy to get lost in that “process.” I must keep reminding myself what I want the painting to be and not become lost in the techniques of turning a photo into a painting.
I decided to share my steps of working from a photo in this post.
Here’s the reference photo:

First, I sketch to create a composition that will work in the dimensions I’ve chosen for my canvas. For obvious reasons, the sketch, done on any handy scrap of paper, is for my eyes only.  

This time, because light was the true subject of my painting, I also needed to design my pattern of light and dark. Eliminating color from the equation, I used a small canvas in the same dimensions as my final piece to establish light and dark rhythms.

Then because color harmony was lacking in my specific photo reference, I added color to my small piece to resolve color issues.

Finally I did it big (well, bigger) and of course, made more alterations. For instance, I changed the old-fashioned wooden seat of the diner to unify my two figures. I did so hate to lose that old-fashioned booth!

Lunch in Thomaston, Maine is an 18x14 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

Lunch in Thomaston Maine is on view along with a bevy of other paintings by my friends: Jean McGuire, Gale Haddock, Jean Gauld-Jaeger, Pat Mayo and me at the Tennessee Art League, 808 Broadway, Nashville, TN in our exhibit August in Maine. If you’re near, come see!

Monday, March 26, 2012


Athena’s Toes is a 14x11 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
This rather elegant couple is fascinated by Nashville’s almost 42-foot statute of Athena. She lives in our replica of the Parthenon (yes, a copy of the original one in Athens, Greece). Our Parthenon is full-size but made primarily of concrete rather than marble and hasn’t been blown up.
I love both the original and our version as well as the gilded Athena made by sculptor Alan LeQuire for Nashville. The first Parthenon had a colossal Athena, too. She was also dressed in gold; in fact, her raiment comprised the city’s treasury.  It also may have been a large contributor to her total disappearance in ancient times.
You can see Athena’s Toes at Artesia, Thursday, March 29, from 5:30 to 7:30, 2905 Parthenon Avenue (get the connection!), Nashville. The art show at Artesia benefits Nashville’s Ronald McDonald House. There’s valet parking… and a real (not painted) view of Nashville’s Parthenon. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"The Parisian"

The Parisian is an 18x14 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
I thought of many possible titles for this canvas. But I finally settled on the straightforward. We were in Paris; he was in Paris, specifically on a Paris street corner in an elegant part of town. It was apparent that he was waiting on someone; and it was equally apparent that he was a resident of the city, not a tourist like us.
He was so beautiful. He might have stepped out of a Renaissance painting… after borrowing an overcoat and muffler to hide his wings.
We were inside at a restaurant; he was just outside the window. I took so many photos he noticed. He noticed and didn’t like it. He frowned; I gave a Gallic shrug and put on an “I’m sorry” expression. He paused, returned the shrug and then turned to wait some more.
The Parisian will be one of my paintings at The Artesia, 2905 Parthenon Ave., Nashville on March 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Art at the Artesia is a benefit for Nashville’s Ronald McDonald House. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

At the Edge of the World is an 18x30 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

This is a big painting done from the small plein air I posted here. I wasn’t going to try for a larger work from my small seascape. I was chicken; I knew how hard I tried to capture that ever-changing tide!
Then I was looking through my digital photos and found one of the same scene but with a person in it. That figure made me remember how vast it was and how small it made me feel.  Small, in both a liberating way (think Leonardo and Kate at the prow of the Titanic) and in a daunting way (think Columbus looking for India).
So I painted it again with a very small person and a very big ocean. This work along with its little study will be in our August in Maine show. The reception is Saturday, April 7 from 6 to 9 at the Tennessee Art League, 808 Broadway in Nashville. My friends and I would love to see you there.
And yes, I have two shows very close together (see my last post) and yes, I’m getting a little anxious!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stretched to the Limit...

Human Geometry is a 20x20 oil done by Shirley Fachilla in open studio. 
Though I’ve been painting for about eight years, I never stretched a canvas until last week. 
[Unclear about the definition of stretching? see Artful Definitions.
I didn’t even want to try it. I lacked the tools and the knowledge. I told myself I didn’t have the time or the strength.  And I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it.
Yes, I do need some additional tools. And if I painted as regularly as I should, I might not have the time.  (I do sometimes procrastinate!)
But my friend Jean McGuire gave me the knowledge and made it as painless as possible. In fact, she almost made it fun.
Though I surely won’t stretch all my canvases, it’s very good to know how. I feel much more professional and competent.
I decided to stretch my limits (so to speak) because many of my framed paintings were committed and I needed a slew of ready-to-hangs for Art at the Artesia on March 29.  Human Geometry, stretched by moi, will be one. I would love to have you join me and the other artists at the Artesia. To see more about it, click here

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


 Gilded is a 24x20 open studio oil by Shirley Fachilla.
Does she look a bit familiar?  I posted a painting of the same model in the same pose here. Actually, I think they  look very different though the primary distinction between this painting and the prior post is size. The first one was tiny, 6x6 inches. This one is a size I use all the time in open studio, a 24x20 inch. 
There are several other differences between the two, in palette (see Artful Definitions) and composition, but mainly for me, in the overall feeling of the paintings. I find the 6x6 to be soft and dreamy and focused upon establishing a mood while the big one is bolder and much more of a rather abstract design statement.
As you probably realize, it’s usual to paint the big painting from the little “study” not the other way around.  But I reversed the process with this duo. I wanted to explore the colors and values a bit more which led me to do it again but small... and quite differently!
I think I’ll have both big and little Blondie in the Art in Artesia show here in Nashville on March 29th. To tell the sponsors you may be coming (and I'd love to see you there), click here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Alternative Worlds

Morisot's Alternative Universe is a 20x20 oil by Shirley Fachilla done partially in open studio.

Have you ever wondered why Berthe Morisot was the only woman included in the founding group of Impressionists? Did you (as I did) assume that her marriage to Eugene Manet, Edouard Manet’s brother had a significant role in her acceptance?
If you did, you were mistaken. She was a member of the group long before she married Eugene. In fact, she was probably the member most responsible for organizing its exhibits.
She made the group on her merits. She was a wonderful artist with a true impressionist style. She was a serious painter who considered herself a professional. Of course, it helped that she was Parisian and beautiful. And it certainly didn’t hurt that she and her brother-in-law Edouard liked each other tremendously.
I’m happy I was mistaken. I’ll be less ready to discount talent next time!
My open studio painting includes Morisot’s A Summer’s Day in the background. A Summer’s Day shows the sort of leisure activity approved for women during Morisot’s era. Berthe’s devotion to her art would have been looked upon with less acceptance.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gone and Yes, (Almost) Forgotten

Listen is a 20x20 oil done partially in open studio by Shirley Fachilla.

The woman in the painting within the painting is named Cecilia Beau. She was a portrait painter extraordinaire, in her time, perhaps as successful as her contemporary, John Singer Sargent.
I consider her success well-earned; for I think she was as good as Sargent. Her work has same fluid grace of brushstroke, elegance and exquisite light.  She painted as much as Sargent, too. And her subjects were often as wealthy though usually not quite as famous. But today Sargent is well-known and Beau practically forgotten.  
I really can’t explain or understand it. The fact that she was a successful woman artist should have made her more memorable rather than less, for in her time, women artists were scarce on the ground.  
I found Cecilia in an exhibit at the High Art Museum in Atlanta a year or so ago. I’ve included many links to her paintings so you may discover her too.
Listen above shows two portrait artists, Cecilia Beau and my painter friend Jean Gauld-Jaeger

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Painting within the Painting

Bracquemond Revisited is a 30x24 oil by Shirley Fachilla.
The painting within my painting above is a Marie Bracquemond. Marie was that rarity, a successful woman artist prior to the 20th century. She was a convert to Impressionism and therein lay her problem.
Her husband, also a noted artist, disliked both the Impressionists and his wife’s work which he sometimes ignored or, in the alternative, belittled. Plagued by ill health (and obviously, her husband!), Marie simply gave up painting.
There are few Bracquemonds and those are mostly in private hands. I’ve only seen two and found them both extraordinary. The one I painted is a portrait of Marie, her husband and her sister. It’s a beautiful interplay of light plus a psychological study of complex relationships.
Bracquemond Revisited is one of several paintings in which I included a painting of the past in the background of an open studio piece. I plan to show you more of them.     

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

To Have My Cake and Eat It, Too.

Websites and blogs both have their special advantages.

Blogs are very immediate while websites are more comfortable for browsing and page flipping.

Blogs invite regular readership and interaction through comments, “following,” and links. Websites are don’t and seem more “professional” for it.

The more you have to say and show, the more filled (some might say cluttered) a blog can become. Of course, this gives the viewer much to see and a reason to linger. But images only stack in a blog. On the other hand, websites can be spare and minimal; and websites allow images to be grouped for the ease of the viewer.

I love my blog and intend to keep blogging away. But now after months of dithering, frittering and procrastinating, I’ve discovered that web design can be easy for even the technically inept (like me). So I think I'll have that cake and eat it, too. 

Do come visit my new website, Shirley Fachilla Fine Art. I think you’ll like it there!  (And I intend to change it, add to it, and in general polish it up, quite often.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Tenderness of Youth"

The Tenderness of Youth is an open studio 14x14 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

The first Renaissance portraits were posed in profile. Frequently, the subjects were the very young. They were often quite literally Romeos and Juliets with their likenesses done to show a prince his potential bride (or more rarely a princess her possible husband), and sometimes sadly, to commemorate a young death.

One of my favorite places in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the gallery that contains many of these Renaissance teenagers.  It’s a wonderful room for the study of interesting painting techniques, but that’s not why I love the place. 

When I first took a real look around, it was a case of déjà vu; the painted faces were so like the faces of my daughter’s teenage friends. The clothes, of course, were different; but the faces were the same, tender innocent profiles, expectant and beautiful, now and more than five hundred years ago. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Going to Richeson 75!

Under an October Sky is a plein air 8x10 oil by Shirley Fachilla.

I've posted this painting before, but I did want to share with you that it was accepted as a finalist in the Richeson 75 International Small Works show.
I’m very grateful to my friend, Jean McGuire who told me she especially liked it because her comment inspired me to submit it! 
It’s of a very typical Tennessee scene, a field of soybeans. In my state, soybeans are one of our cash crops, along with tobacco and corn; and the plant is pretty ubiquitous. But though it’s common and unassuming, combined with our lovely rolling hills, it can put on a show.
I love it when the ordinary turns beautiful, and we artists have the pleasure of painting it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Into the Heart of Bok Choy

 The Heart of Bok Choy is a 8x6 oil on linen by Shirley Fachilla.
This painting began with a beautiful head of bok choy from a good friend's garden. I intended to paint all of it, every purple/green leaf (which I found to be absolutely gorgeous).
But good intentions often are subverted when I start welding a paintbrush and instead of showing all, I painted a close-up of the very heart of that crispy little bok choy.  It became an abstract rather than a study, something that was all about light and dark, color complements and thick versus thin. 
Who would recognize it as a garden vegetable? Probably no one that’s who.
Turning things into abstractions, of course, is hardly anything new. Georgia O’Keeffe did it with a vengeance. Her big, bold close-ups of flowers filled canvases with swooping, simplified shapes and beautiful subtle colors. Art critics compared those flowers to many things, some x-rated, or at least extremely intimate; but no matter, artists have been following her lead ever since.     

Is it too early to send an invitation?

Pieces by (clockwise from left to right) : Susan Harlan, Janet Garner, Shirley Fachilla, Mike Martino and Topper Williams. So many ...