I teach studio classes, plein air (outdoor) workshops, and private lessons.
Spring and summer plein air classes and workshops meet in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
Over the summer, weekly drop-in classes meet in Exeter, NH.
Late fall and winter weekly classes and workshops meet in my studio in Lowell, Mass.
Class still life set-up
Classes & Workshops
“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 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.
ONGOING WEEKLY STUDIO PAINTING CLASSES
Lowell, MA: Wednesday Evenings, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. $30/class
Exeter, NH: Thursday Evenings, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. $35/class
Evening oil painting group classes, suitable for beginners and adventurous painters alike. Demos, instruction, refreshments, and fertile ground for skill-building and self expression. $30 per session, just show up, no commitment necessary. All you need to bring is a basic painting kit (paints, brushes, mineral spirits, canvas and easel), your favorite bottle of wine (if so inclined), and your sense of adventure, as each week we try out a new game plan for the painting du jour.
Lowell meets Wednesdays 6-9 in my Studio #521. Exeter meets in a converted barn at 66 Newfields Rd. Both are fun and welcoming groups of mostly beginning painters, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Pop an email to me at chris(at)christophervolpe.com for more info and a supply list.
SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS PAINTING ADVENTURE
Castle Inveraray, Argyllshire, Scotland
October 8 – 13, 2017
The rolling mountains and lakes of the Scottish Highlands have captivated artists for hundreds of years – high Romantics Wordsworth, Keats, Byron, Mendelssohn, and J.W.M. Turner all found inspiration here. We’ll spend five days exploring and painting the breathtaking hills, lakes, and coast of southwestern Scotland, with headquarters at and around the Duke of Argyll’s estate, near the small town of Inveraray, “the gateway to the highlands,” perched beside Loch Fyne, the largest lake in the country.
A workshop fee of $1,650 includes painting instruction, accommodations, and daily tea with the Duke and Duchess. The workshop includes 4 days of painting, with Friday for exploring on your own or joining a sketching expedition to Fingal’s Cave (see below) with stops at legendary Scotch distilleries at Oban and Islay about three hours to the west. Cultural mecca Edinburgh, with the Scottish National Gallery and many other museums, is two hours to the east.
We’ll be painting and staying near Inveraray Castle, which was featured in an episode of “Downton Abbey.” Spouses and others are of course welcome to tag along. As for painting locations, in addition to the castle grounds and the impressive loch, easy hiking trails through ancient woods, over hills dotted with ruins and spectacular views abound.
Optional “day off” activity: Sketching trip to Fingal’s Cave Imagine a windswept island sacred in pre-history to the pre-Gaelic Celts and visited since then by artists, musicians, and seekers of all kinds. This outcropping of the Hebrides, called Staffa, features a strange, multi-colored basalt cavern known as Fingal’s Cave, so named after Fionneor Finne, a mythical giant said to have built it as the opening to a subterranean causeway between Ireland and Scotland. At over 200 feet deep, the acoustics in the cave are said to be exceptional and at times even ghostly – in stormy tides the cacophonous sounds of the waves inside it rumble out for miles. Felix Mendelssohn began composing his magnificent tone poem, the “Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)” just hours after visiting. Turner painted it, as did Thomas Moran (his depiction is reproduced above). We’ll follow in their footsteps on a sketching expedition to gather material for future paintings of our own.
Additional information here.
This workshop is quickly filling up. A deposit of $500 is required to secure the remaining spots. Shoot me an email with your interest asap.
Interior of Fingal’s Cave
Summer & Fall Plein Air Classes
July 10 – 14
The Poetics of Painting the Landscape
Summer Immersive, Montserrat College of Art
This college-level class combines outdoor painting and conceptual work done in the studio indoors. Our approach will be about introspection, improvisation, and perception as well as technique; we will explore exercises, processes, and disciplines that align the creative process with honest responses to life. The goal is to inspire strong, technically sound art expressing originality and feeling, and to nurture a creative practice fulfilling in itself yet engaged with the past and present of art and life at large. This class may be taken for college credit. Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Details and registration here.
Truro, Cape Cod
Beyond Plein Air
July 17-21, 2017
Painting is a call to enhance perception and 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 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 infuse your work with poetry and feeling.
We’ll spend three days sketching outdoors and two days painting larger work in the studio. Our “big” paintings (24” 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.
Star Island, Isles of Shoals
Painting the Shoals
Join me and a group of contemporary painters passionate about the Isles of Shoals for on-site demonstrations and painting instruction. Make it a one-day thing or opt to paint for a second day, staying the night for a special rate in the island’s 19th century Oceanic Hotel.
For me, the isles are about the 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, recalling Nathanial Hawthorne’s assessment that, taking in the sea, salt and stone here, “it seems as if some of the massive materials of the world remained superfluous after theCreator 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.
For those who choose to make it a two-day trip, I will be delivering a lecture, “Picturing the Shoals,” a 30-minute slideshow (downloadable here) on the rich history of art related to these rugged, isolated islands in the waters off Maine and New Hampshire.
Crawford Notch, Heart of the White Mountains
Unlimited van transportation to secluded spots of unspoiled natural beauty!
Plein Air in the White Mountains
September 22-24, 2017
Three for the price of one! Take instruction from painters Todd Bonita, Alastair Dacey and me over the course of five days in the beautiful Whites. Learn the art of painting outdoors in a “no experience necessary” plein air foliage trip in the historic home base of 19th century White Mountain painters in Crawford Notch. Workshop participants will paint, eat, live and share this experience together as a group at the surprisingly awesome Highland Center, Appalachian Mountain Club lodge on the former site of the historic Crawford House and artist-in-resience studio of White Mountain Painter Frank Henry Shapleigh. Included is an evening slide-show lecture on the aims and techniques of painters in the Whites, from the 1820’s to the present day.
Morning demonstrations and instruction will leave time for afternoon hiking or individual attention at the easel. Instruction will be supplemented with evening lectures on the rich tradition of White Mountain painting, historical and contemporary, with special attention to Thomas Cole, Chauncey Ryder, and Frank Henry Shapleigh, whose c. 1876 Crawford House artist-in-residence studio still stands on the very site where we’re staying. Workshop fee includes instruction, lectures, exercises, and optional critiques. Adult: $399 member / $437 non-member includes everything – painting instruction, lodging, and three excellent meals a day. Register here or here.
Ogunquit (Maine Coast)
Rocks at Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, by 19th c. painter Alfred Thompson Bricher
“The Art of Seeing” (5-day session $500)
October 12-15, 2017
Capture your vision in this special team-taught workshop that blends creative expression with instruction in formal technique.
With oil painter Todd Bonita, between us we cover both sides of the creative process to help you develop your innate intuitive ability alongside the academic skills need to refine your vision into art.
We will present a spectrum of outdoor painting strategies. Immerse yourself in spontaneity and “big seeing” while honing technical skills in drawing, color mixing, composition and design, paint handling, and the formal elements of picture making, such as line, shape, value, and unity.
This workshop takes place in the Southern Maine, coastal town of Ogunquit, home to one of America’s original art colonies and a renowned plein-air painting summer school founded by influential Perkins Cove Artist and teacher, Charles H. Woodbury in 1898. We will discuss Woodbury’s teaching philosophy as it relates to the “art of seeing,” perceptual drawing, seeing, and painting. We will paint in this picturesque, coastal nook in the shadows of Homer, Hopper, and Henri. Demonstrations, discussions of plein-air painting, personal critiques, creativity coaching, academic training, and handouts. Cost $500.
More info and signup here.
ITALY PLEIN AIR PAINTING TRIP
Tuscany, Cinque Terre (Italian Riviera), Venice, Italy
This will happen sometime.
Spend a 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, and the incredibly beautiful terraced slopes of the Cinque Terre, a rugged coastal area of the Italian Riviera.
Additional workshops in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Acadia Maine, Ireland, Greece, and the Amalfi Coast have been bandied about.
Email me with your interest!
Please contact me if you’re interested in taking a class!
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.
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 work. 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.
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
- Burnt Sienna (or Transparent Iron Oxide Red)
- Prussian (or Phthalo) Blue
- Viridian (very occasional use)
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 Gamblin’s “Galkyd,” a viscous drying medium that speeds up the drying time and also imparts a mild gloss to the finished painting. I occasionally use Liquin, but I find that it thins your paint a lot, diluting color intensity and erasing brushstrokes (I *like* brushstrokes). Gamblin’s Galkyd is better on this front, though a little bit harder to find.
- Palette – a surface (I recommend a wooden palette) for mixing your oil colors
- Paper Towels/Rags (I recommend 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). I like the flexibility of the one made by Loew-Cornell.
- 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
- 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.