Grisaille painting

My sons gifted me with a zoom class in grisaille painting from the New York Academy of Art taught by John Wellington, an established artist and great teacher. I am halfway through the 3-hour sessions of six weekly classes.

Grisaille is a French word meaning “grey.” Grisaille is pronounced “griz-EYE.” It is done to create an underpainting with a limited palette related to one color, usually grey. Underpaintings are, as the name implies, to be painted over. It was often done by the northern European artists during the Renaissance. The class is still working on underpainting but I expect we will begin to put in color, shadow mixes and transparent glazes. Mr. Wellington said we could do a complete painting in grisaille rather than adding other colors.

Monochromatic paintings are beautiful, but I want to know how the colors are applied. I like grisaille as an underpainting because it lets me concentrate on light and dark without the complexity of color.

Prior to class I gathered the materials needed: Recommended were a variety of “round” brushes as they were used in traditional painting rather than flat or filbert brushes, mediums (I chose Galkyd Lite thinned with mineral spirits), and supports of portrait linen, wood panel, aluminum, copper or prepared watercolor paper.

I planned to use a good quality prepared watercolor paper not wanting to invest in Belgian linen for a learning experiment. Watercolor paper used for oil painting must be a high quality, stiff watercolor paper. I cut it to size and taped it to stiff backgrounds like paint panels and even old paintings. I made several sizes. Next, I used two coats of gesso on each and followed with an oil primer.

I bought three Belgian linen portrait canvases to use later when I had learned the technique. I also bought an 11″x14″ Belgian portrait canvas in case I did not like the watercolor paper. Ha! It was a good thing I had backup. I hated painting on the prepared watercolor paper. I started painting on the small portrait canvas. My right hand with a slight essential tremor made it hard to paint a full figure on a tiny canvas with very small brushes. I was left with using a 29″x30” linen canvas that I hoped to use later. That worked fine.

Every painting is an experiment. I’ll stop making mistakes when I die.

Layout and composition
Our model was a female dancer dressed in a pink gown with a Russian fur hat in a seated position on a burgundy sofa. I decided to draw her full figure rather than just a face. I had toned my painting with a wash of burnt sienna acrylic paint. I first experimented with my sketch book…placement of the figure in space and light/dark values. I used vine charcoal to sketch as I did later on the canvas. I blotted the charcoal thoroughly with a fine cotton cloth leaving a faint memory of the lines. I made three small piles of paint..mars black, titanium white, and a grey mixture made of both.

Beginning the painting
I usually lay down a too-dark line for sketching. It makes it hard to correct later. I made myself think “grey, not black.” That is necessary because I make a lot of corrections. I didn’t begin art lessons until I was in my seventies so it is like teaching an old dog new tricks. In later years, you can learn but sometimes it takes longer. I like the challenge. One of the things I learned is to try to keep as much white as possible in light areas and not commit too quickly into shadow mixtures. My painting looks muddy in some places because I have redrawn it so many times as I correct form issues. I have it on an easel behind my computer desk. I want to make corrections so badly but I know I must leave it dry so I can paint on it in the next class.

Painting of Wendy finished and sold.

Remembering RBG and applying her quote to banning corporal punishment of children

Great quotes of RBG
The great Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died this weekend. Today I came across many of her powerfully inspiring quotes. One that struck me was, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Anyone who has worked for social change knows this is true. It is hard to change hearts and minds. Social change happens incrementally, reached when you have changed most opponents’ minds and worn them out. Having worked for decades to end corporal punishment of children, I have heard people say, “So, get it banned. Get a big-time Senator to sponsor a bill and it will be done.” Alice Miller, the renowned Polish-born psychologist, writer, and researcher, suggested I get Teddy Kennedy to sponsor a bill in the U.S. Senate. It does not happen that way in our society. Getting endurable change means working through legislatures and courts securing consensus. Today, in a world where 128 countries ban school corporal punishment, the U.S. has banned it in 31 states. We are lagging behind protecting children. I helped get a ban in Ohio schools in 2009, an effort that took over 20 years. Along the road, we had stinging defeats and a few savored successes. Almost every education organization in Ohio opposed our efforts and we needed to get incremental restrictions on its use through more than a dozen bills before our opponents gave up. Ohio children can go to school without having an educator say, “Bend over and take your whacks.” One step at a time has led to a law that has not been challenged. Most young Ohio teachers are shocked that educators once struck children with boards.

Classes at the Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, OH

A wonderful place to create art

Enjoying a beautiful spring

I am missing my classes at the Cultural Arts Center which have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a wonderful place to learn about, imagine and create art.  We are lucky to have a beautiful old downtown building where we can take inexpensive art classes taught by excellent instructors.   I’ve always enjoyed and collected art but never took formal training in it. When I retired I decided to learn to paint so I could create my own art.   My most interesting class at the Cultural Arts Center has been human figure drawing/painting which I have taken for five years.  I work intensely with charcoal, acrylic, or oil for almost three hours to capture the form and spirit of a live model.  My instructor and fellow students give me feedback that helps me improve my skills.  At the end of the class, I am completely relaxed and so happy to have created my own special piece of art.  It’s never too late to start to learn about and create art, whether it is painting, jewelry, ceramics, or sculpture. 


A 1950’s photo of the dairy farm where I grew up in Northwestern Wisconsin. I am writing about growing up on this farm in the mid-20th century with one-room schools, hard work for children and adults and lots of simple outdoor entertainment for kids. I couldn’t wait to leave but now look back with nostalgia.

REMEMBERING ROSIE….upcoming book

It seems like the world is grinding to a halt with the advent of Covid-19. We are fearful, sheltered, and worried about family.  I am thankful for the time it gives me to write and paint.

I am writing a book about growing up on a Wisconsin dairy farm in the 1950’s, a world before television and cell phones, a sheltered world of home, community and church.

Here is my “elevator speech” about REMEMBERING ROSIE:

A ten-year old Wisconsin farm girl watches her favorite cow Rosie being loaded on a truck and taken to slaughter. She vows never to be a farmer or a farmer’s wife. She is a fourth generation of German pioneer settlers in North Central Wisconsin. Despite having an often-idyllic childhood, by the 1950s, the country’s post-war optimism fed teenage Block’s hope of going to college to escape her barricaded and often small-minded world of farm, small community, and church.

Block’s quest of going to college is not encouraged by her family and teachers and there is no money to help her. She is the oldest of five children and feels she must lead the way. Take a trip through the good, bad, and ugly of dairy farm living in the 1950s as the author looks back with nostalgia on the childhood she wished to escape.