Painting in the Grand Canyon of Man

“5th Avenue Afternoon”, field sketch demonstration, 12x9. Pastel on Uart paper.

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to experience something I thought I would never do – instruct a plein air workshop in Manhattan, NY. Having been raised in rural Oregon and spending the majority of my time painting the open landscape vistas across the United States and Europe, I never considered leading a group around any urban location, let alone one as intimidating as New York City. When Christine Ivers, the president of the Connecticut Pastel Society and an active artist member of the historic Salmagundi Club of New York, first broached the idea a couple of years ago, I dismissed it, “I’m a landscape painter – what could I possibly do with the steel and concrete of a place like New York.” After she reminded me that Manhattan also contained one of the most beautiful parks in the world, Central Park, and that the Salmagundi Club with its deep historic roots in American representational painting would be hosting the workshop, I was intrigued. With the encouragement of the wonderful president of the club, Claudia Seymour – a well-known and respected pastel and oil artist, I agreed to give it a try.

From the first demonstration across the street from the Club in a gothic churchyard looking down 5th Avenue to the final day painting on location in Central Park, it was an experience like no other. The textures, colors, and local wildlife – otherwise known as residence – added to the sensory stimulation. While packing materials in and out of public transportation and making sure everyone was at the right location may have been challenging, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm I felt to paint one of the most vibrant cities in the world. With the first stroke of pastel to surface, the old observation that everything we paint is really all the same came into my head. While subject matter may be important to the concept, the process of painting is really nothing more than shapes, edges, values and colors, arranged in a pleasing design. Within ten minutes, I understood the situation – we were in the Grand Canyon of man’s making. Instead of the sound of rushing water, we had traffic. Instead of fragrant field flowers, we had food vendors. While this may sound unappealing to some, it was exhilarating and undoubtedly had a profound influence on the finished works.

With the support of Christine, Claudia and the wonderful staff of the Salmagundi Club, a truly memorable week was had. I eagerly look forward to my next opportunity to paint en plein air in the urban landscape and encourage all of you that have never given it a try, to do so. Remember, if the painting fails, there is always a museum somewhere close to provide motivation.

Visit to learn more about the Salmagundi Club and their efforts, lead by President Claudia Seymour, to restore the historic brownstone house they have called home since 1917.

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10 thoughts on “Painting in the Grand Canyon of Man

  1. Susanne Clark

    The painting included in this article is sublime. It is a such a pleasure to see and I hope you will post more from your trip. Thanks for going to New York and sharing the image and experience.

  2. Gina Lento

    You should try Paint Annapolis in September with the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Assoc. I never did cityscapes either until I went to my first Paint Annapolis and loved it. I found that what you paint one year could be totally different the next time you go, so when we paint cityscapes, we are also recording a history of the place.

  3. Ed

    What a great read! VERY interesting. Richard, on another note. I have a question/problem. I work on Kitty Wallis paper dry mounted on Gatorboard, I’ve never had a problem with this, but my recent boards I picked up from the framer who dry mounts them, are totally coming off the board. I always do an underpainting, either watercolor or alcohol wash. This is the first time this has happened.. Any thoughts or suggestions?? Thanks, and hope your well.

  4. Janice Reese Olson

    Richard, you sure captured the feel of New York and Central Park. How exciting to be there and soak up that beautiful city. That, I would like to do too.

  5. Chris Ivers

    All I want to know is WHEN ARE YOU COMING BACK??? What a great time for everyone… Including me… Even with my brace! Thank you for everything Richard, you are truly a special instructor and person.

  6. Kristie Cecil

    Thanks again for a fun and informative week. I have some great memories and lots of stories about the Big Apple. It was a blast.

  7. Lynn

    Richard – thank you for such an insightful article. Thank you for taking on the urban challenge, it had more positive effects then you can imagine – I have truly never seen my mother happier then when she was in the presence of such art energy that you helped to provide!