Oil Paintings


Classes & Workshops

Charles Woodbury with students, c. 1898

I teach studio classes, plein air (outdoor) workshops here and overseas, and private lessons.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching is important to me on many levels, and I’ve been teaching something (poetry, non-fiction writing, art history, painting) continuously for some 25 years.

“Painting is a matter of impulse, it is a matter of getting out to nature and having some joy in registering it…..You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start. Good painting is an excitement, an aesthetic emotion – reasonable painting destroys emotion. Painters don’t reason, they do.”               –Hawthorne

I don’t pretend to be a straightforward teacher of traditional oil painting. I’m interested in sharing experimentation, spontaneity, feeling, and imagination. l want to inspire and encourage an emotional response, not just for painting but for all of life. The best way to learn to paint is to just keep doing it. Yet that also means cultivating your inner life and digging into the history of art on your own, even as you discover your individual creative self – by making paintings, by just doing the work.

I believe in a direct, intuitive approach to art-making rooted as much in spontaneity as in the history and traditions of western art. However, my classes can seem erratic. I don’t have academic artistic training, so I teach what I know, which is more about how one goes about developing a personal practice than it is about acquiring the traditional skills of oil painting.

Artists are people on a public path of self-discovery. Technique is important, but so is having something to say. And we all have something to say – it’s just that too often we settle for someone else’s language. Actually, my teaching philosophy is simple: I want to help my students develop a personal voice as well as the essential formal techniques required to express it.

All of my classes include demonstrations and personal instruction as well as creative exercises designed to free up your brush and lay the foundation for intuitive, expressive painting that’s fun, full of feeling, and yours alone. I’m proud to say that many of my current and former students continue to pursue the craft, and many have gone on to sell their work and even establish their own painting studios.

* * *

“There  isn’t enough language to express how much this workshop has affected my art technically and imaginatively…. you have opened up an entirely novel approach for me through your plein air excursions and demos. I will be taking your class next year and thereafter.”

  – Anne Garton, “Beyond Plein Air” class & workshop, Truro MA

“I’ve sold every single painting I did that week.”

– Bill Reedy, White Mountains workshop (AMC Crawford Notch)


“Thank you for opening our eyes to a new (for us) way of seeing things. This was just the spark I needed to change direction in how I put paint on canvas!”

  – Bill Edwards, Art of Seeing workshop, Ogunquit, ME


“I’ve sold almost every one the paintings I did in your class. One of them was the first one I sold at my next show.”

 – Paula Furlong, Contemporary Oil Painting masterclass, Hollis, NH

To reserve a spot or if you have questions, email me at CHRIS(AT)CHRISTOPHERVOLPE.COM or call (603) 770-3058.


2017-2018 Weekly Workshop Studio Class

Exeter, NH ~ Every other Wednesday, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. $40/class

On summer recess until September/October. Email me to be added to the “signup genius” email invitations for fall session.

landscape study - demo

Class demo, landscape & clouds,

Download an info sheet for all the equipment list and details.

Evening oil painting group classes, suitable for beginners and adventurous painters alike. Demos, instruction, refreshments, and fertile ground for skill-building and self-expression. Bi-weekly drop-in classes ($40) are meeting at The Word Barn in Exeter, NH. There are two “semesters,” fall and spring, able to accommodate a maximum of 15 students. There is no commitment to anything – folks come and paint whenever they can; you can be there every time or you can come once and never come back. All you need to bring is an easel and a basic painting kit (palette, paints, brushes, mineral spirits, canvas, paper towels) and your favorite bottle of wine if so inclined. A sense of fun and adventure is essential as each week we try out a new game plan for the painting du jour.

There’s no official registration. Students RSVP to each class through an email sign-up that goes out a few days before it. Email me if you want to be added to the sign-up list for interested painters.


The Word Barn, on Newfields Rd. in Exeter, NH


Star Island, Isles of Shoals

Painting the Shoals

Sunday, August 19, 2018 FULL

Rain date Monday, 8/20

Join me on what’s become an annual pilgrimage to a place locked in time, a rocky, scruffy, and lightly populated island of antique weather-beaten buildings on the ocean, an austere haven poised between civilization and oblivion.

Whether you are already passionate about the Isles of Shoals or not, join this excursion on a chartered ferry (the “Uncle Oscar”) for on-site explorations, painting demonstrations and instruction.

For me, the isles inspire contemplation of our place in nature. My paintings here are about the dissolution of matter into “spirit” in the form of light, air, stone. I go for rocky coasts, “the basins hollowed out of granite and flint, and the utter wantonness in which the sea has pitched about the fragments it has wrested from the solid rock, the futility of words in which to express this confusion,” as one writer put it in 1875. Nathanial Hawthorne wrote that, taking in the sea, salt and stone here, “it seems as if some of the massive materials of the world remained superfluous after the Creator had finished, and were carelessly thrown down here, where the millionth part of them emerge from the sea, and in the course of thousands of years have become partially bestrewn with a little soil.” There are many spots of quiet, timeless beauty as well.

$100/Participants responsible for $34 roundtrip ferry ride. On-site day parking is $5.

There is a restaurant at the Oceanic hotel but please feel free to bring a boxed lunch and drink. Meals in the hotel’s family-style dining hall are available for a fee payable at the front desk. Bathrooms are available on the island.  Our boat, the Uncle Oscar, departs from Rye harbor at 9:30 am. Our return trip departs from the island at 4:30 pm for a 5:15 arrival back on the mainland (there may be an option to stay on island until the last boat at 7:25 p.m., to be back in Rye at 8. All-day parking in the Rye Harbor marina lot is an additional $5 (cash only).

2017 Star Island workshop


Herring Cove Surf, 2017

Truro, Cape Cod

Beyond Plein Air

July 16-20, 2018


Much instruction in plein air painting focuses on “essentials” like direct observation, composition, tonal values, simplifying shapes, and accurately rendering perspective, color, light, space, and atmosphere. All of that’s important, but it leaves out the best reason to paint at all: exploring the interaction of “objective” perception and personal truth. In my experience, far less technical expertise is necessary than most people realize in order to paint not just what it looks like, but what it feels like – not what you see, but what you think and feel about what you see. Approached in this way, painting becomes a call to visualize felt ideas, to fuse sensation, imagination, and abstract design in a compelling vision of life.

In this workshop, we will go beyond imitation of nature and use the objective world as a springboard to explore the expressive use of design, color, and paint. Our goal is to develop exercises, processes, and disciplines that will align your creative process with your subjective responses to nature and to life and ultimately, to infuse your work with poetry, feeling, and a sense of play.

We’ll spend three days painting sketches outdoors and two days painting larger work in the studio.  Our “big” paintings (24” x 24,” 36” x 36,” or larger) will be inspired by memories and material gathered and refined over the previous days. This is a chance to try some bold, adventurous painting and open  new avenues for original work.

This class functions well for a wide variety of skill levels, but some previous plein air painting experience may be helpful. More info and to register here.


Plein Air Workshops Abroad

The Coast of Nova Scotia


A ‘Beyond Plein Air’ Class Geared Toward Self-Expression

Five days – final dates and cost TBD. Limit 8 students.

An offshoot of my popular Cape Cod “Beyond Plein Air” class, this special workshop will be unlike most in that we take as our starting point NOT the accurate depiction of nature but the heartfelt expression of our experience of nature (and, by extension, the world).

We will work through a variety of exercises and step-by-step processes that train the hand and eye to use the visible world as a springboard to explore imagination through the expressive use of design, color, and paint. This class will help align your creative process with your personal responses to nature and to life and infuse your work with poetry and feeling.

We’ll spend three days painting outdoors and two days painting larger work either inside or outside, but in any case away from the motif.  Our “big” paintings (24” x 24”) will be inspired by memories and material gathered and refined over the previous three days of looking, feeling, thinking, and painting. This is a chance to try some bold, adventurous painting and open  new avenues for original work.

This class functions well for a wide variety of skill levels, beginners with open minds included. Of course, some previous plein air painting experience may be helpful.

We’ll station ourselves on the rocky, picturesque coast of Nova Scotia, near Lunenberg and culturally rich Halifax. We’ll take the CAT high-speed ferry from Portland, ME to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, so we’ll have our cars and all our gear at the ready. We’ll use alkyd-based paints so getting the work home won’t be part of the adventure 😉

This one’s been on the table FOREVER:


Tuscany, Cinque Terre (Italian Riviera), Venice

This *may* FINALLY happen in 2019! (I know, the year keeps getting pushed out, but it’s actually on the books for 2019)

Spend an extended week reveling in Italy, enjoying the sensual delights of Tuscany, Venice, and the Mediterranean coast. Capture your experiences in paintings created in the shade of centuries’ old olive groves, medieval villages, marbled waterways, and the incredibly beautiful terraced slopes of the Cinque Terre, a rugged coastal wine-growing area of the Italian Riviera.

Contact me if you’re interested in joining us! (I have a running list of some 10 names so far, and with Scotland under my belt, I feel very good about making this fantasy a wonderful reality.)


Additional workshops in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Iceland, Spain, and the Amalfi Coast  have been bandied about.

Email me with your interest!



Private instruction, either in your home or at my Lowell studio, is available. The standard rate is $100 per three-hour session. In these sessions (evening or daytime) I work individually with a painter of any experience level, total beginner to working artist, and develop a series of classes tailored to the individual student’s needs and goals.

6"x8," oil on panel SOLD

Bowl, 6″x8,” 2013. Sold.


Please contact me (chris(at)christophervolpe.com) if you’re interested in taking a class!


Materials & Equipment


  • Bring at least one medium-sized  (8×10 to 12×16) panel or canvas for each studio or plain-air session.
  • Have a few itty bitty (5×7 or 6×8) panels or something handy for possible warm-ups and color sketches.

I use cheap canvas and canvas panels for plein air work and either “gallery wrapped” canvas or linen for larger paintings in the studio. I’ve been known to make my own linen panels by mounting Claussen’s #13 triple oil-primed Belgian linen to birch or maple plywood panels that I cut to size.

Brushes & Knives

  • I primarily paint with a large chip brushes (cheap, disposable hardware store bristle brushes), filberts,  and a painting knife, but I do keep many brushes on hand for special uses. When doing large work, I use house paint brushes. Bring your favorite brushes AND something large (#10) maybe a large filbert or a flat, either synthetic or bristle, AND something even larger, like a 2-3″ chip or house painting brush. Just make sure your bristles are stiff, not soft.
  • You need a palette knife for mixing paint. I often use a combination of brush and knife in my work. Most of my students end up getting a palette knife like the one I use, with a long, rectangular blade that’s squared off at the end, as shown below. I often paint with my knife as well as mix with it, so if you’re interested in trying out my style, you’ll want to get this kind of knife.

square tip palette knife


My basic palette:

  • Titanium White (*large tube*)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (red)
  • Cadmium Yellow Light (for occasional use SPARINGLY!)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Burnt Umber (though we often make our own browns)
  • Yellow Ochre
    • Optional/occasional:
    • Burnt Sienna (or Transparent Iron Oxide Red)
    • Prussian (or Phthalo) Blue
    • Viridian (or Phthalo Green)

Additional colors occasionally added in, not essential but nice to have in your kit: Caput Mortuum (Old Holland, aka Mars Violet), King’s Blue (Old Holland, a wonderful blue perfect for skies and creating cool grays), Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red, Lemon Yellow (or Cad Yellow Light), Gold Ochre, Phthalo Green, and Ivory Black. Zinc white which is semi-transparent to Titanium’s opaque, can be used to great advantage in layering and scumbling to create atmospheric effects, but Titanium’s my daily go-to white.

I paint mostly directly and in layers wet on wet, and often use no medium at all, so if you’re a beginner don’t worry about it. As you figure out what kind of painter you are, you’ll discover the uses of mediums to create different effects in different kinds of work. I do enjoy using straight “stand” (thickened) linseed oil or pure linseed oil; the former thickens the paint while improving flow and adding gloss. My true favorite medium (aka “honey”) is a mixture of about 70% Stand Oil and 30% Linseed Oil, sometimes with a little Turp/Odorless Mineral Spirits, which I also use for cleanup.

If I need my painting to dry quickly (oils without medium take 3-5 days to dry to the touch), I use Winsor & Newton’s “Liquin” or Gamblin’s “Galkyd,” a viscous drying medium that speeds up the drying time and also imparts a mild gloss to the finished painting.

Other Essentials

  • Palette – a surface (I use and recommend a wooden palette) for mixing your oil colors
  • Paper Towels/Rags (Trust me, get the blue “shop towels” at a hardware store. They’re more absorbent, more durable, and often cheaper too).
  • Cleaning Solvent: I use Mona Lisa Odorless Mineral Spirits in the studio and pure, artist-grade turpentine when I’m working outside. If you want a completely solvent-free system, try plant-based oils (walnut oil, linseed or cooking-grade safflower oil) for cleaning brushes.
  • Palette knife, for mixing and applying paint (I often paint with a square-tipped palette or “painting knife” like this)(and see above). I like the flexibility of the one made by Loew-Cornell and the one with the blue rubber handle sold by Blick online.
  • Wooden folding French easel (search online for “French easel”). I use a half pochade with backpack straps. You can also use a paintbox mounted on a tripod, such as the  Guerrilla Painter or OpenBox M boxes. I also have two student-grade easels and two plein air pochades available for student use.
  • B pencil or charcoal and sketchbook (very optional – I don’t usually use them but they can be nice to have handy).
  • Old clothes! Oils can be messy, and if you paint like I do, you WILL end up with paint on your clothes and on you!

Additional Gear for Outdoor Painting

  • Hat with brim
  • Comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers
  • Layered Clothing
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellant
  • Water Bottle
  • Something to carry home wet paintings in (pizza boxes work well but you can also buy “wet paint carriers” that are nice)
  • Small White Umbrella (these are awesome for keeping out of direct sun, but they can be cumbersome and I confess I don’t use one, though I should)


I have an academic background as a writer and art history instructor, and I write about art for websites, scholarly journals, exhibition catalogues, and print magazines like Art New England and American Art Review. In addition, I enjoy giving public lectures and presentations on the history of art. Lecturing and teaching helps me make my background in art history, aesthetics, and literature converge with life – it feels like I’m putting art history and ideas into practice.

Here you can download free PDF versions of some of the slide shows I use in my presentations to art associations, libraries, historical societies, and students.



Picturing the Shoals: 150 Years of Artistic Fascination


Borderlands preso

Borderlands: In Search of Martin Johnson Heade’s Newburyport Meadows


plein air painting in Maine and Southern NH

From the Mountains to the Sea: The History of Plein Air Painting in NH and Maine


Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 4.00.26 PM

The Seeing of the Thing: The Art and Teaching of Charles Woodbury and the Original Ogunquit Art Colony

contact me if you’d like me to give a presentation to your group