Salt in the Air,(San Pancho)8x72dpi

Masla, Salt in the Air, Cobra water mixable oil on Fredrix all media paint board, 8″ x 16″

The post for this issue has to do with Critique and Criticism… and how to tell the difference in these voices, as well as an added spiritual perspective. Being a full time artist for 40 years and art instructor for nearly as long, (not to mention the 12 years running the Casa and experiencing a large variety of guest artist facilitators and their methods), I have over the years run into and contemplated the subject repeatedly. The article is excerpted from 2 sources, talks I have had with my colleagues and students and a letter/text, (slightly edited) sent to my kids when they where in creative crisis. It applies, not just to all creative endeavors, regardless of your media or practice, but to life in general. The letter was originally shared with our son Brahm, a jazz drummer, during his first semester at University, but was equally important for our daughters Narieka and Aiyana, (dancers/performers/teachers), in there lives. I hope you find it helpful and enlightening. Part 2, The Letter, is perhaps not relevant for everyone, realize that it is within a personal context and I share it as I think it will perhaps ring true for some. As I have said in art as in life, intention, love and actions are always my barometer, take what is helpful, (and opens your heart), and leave the rest behind. Please send us your feed back if you like.
Due to the vast confusion/blending of these terms and the often negative associations attributed to the word critique I have often preferred to use the word sharing. Someone wants to share with me there work and process, and I in turn share my reaction formed from my experience and insight, hopefully it is helpful. Here in lies some key words. Throughout our lives, many of us have experienced feed back that is less than helpful, whether it is presented as a harsh “reality” that “destroys our motivation” or is obsequiously kind to the point of our disbelief and disillusion. And worse is when we levy such “critiques” on ourselves, for these are not really critiques, but internal criticism (as I will explain). These criticisms, which have accumulated since childhood, by even persons with loving intentions, form voices in our heads. As we grow older, we often identify with these voices, not realizing the origin of the various voices, we often limit ourselves by them. They become blocks on our creativity, courage, exploration and self confidence and ultimately our sense of self-worth and identity.

A few typical example of common early childhood criticisms might be: “Bobby, try and color within the lines”, (reel it in, conform) or ” The sky is not green – it is blue”, (don’t be expressive, curb your imagination). I remember a music teacher in our “choir class”, coming up to me and whispering in my ear, “Bobby, just mouth the words, you really don’t have a voice” (- wow, no voice, that’s deep). And it is not just within the realm of the arts. Out of concern parents often say, (I know I have), “Don’t run to fast, you’ll fall and hurt yourself”, (don’t trust your own body sense). As children we have all experienced a variety of these, (perhaps you can identify some of your voices, I do a drawing exercise with students to identify some of the voices blocking creativity). As a parent, I cringe at the thought of the ways I have perpetuated this on my children, but it is all grist for the mill.The underlying message that these accumulated voices give us, and are often reinforced by the structures of our society, can be paralyzing if not underscored with a supportive loving environment and/or strong internal constitution. The message is not just “Don’t step outside the box”, but “being creative, expressing yourself – being yourself – is wrong, is even dangerous!”

It is no wonder that when I had entered my kids class when they where in preschool and asked “who here can draw?” every hand went up. But when I address a group of adults, perhaps 1 or 2 in 20 will affirm it. I often hear, I can’t draw, I have no talent, I can’t even draw a stick figure. My response is, “Thank god talent and stick figures really have very little to do with drawing” and “if you can sign your name I can teach you to draw.”
A defining difference between critique and criticism is understanding the premise from which the critique must unfold. For a number of years now when asked to critique someones work I first ask a question, which is the premise: What is your Intention. If I do not know your intention, it is impossible for me to evaluate your work or process. It is not my business to judge your intention, is it “good or bad”, “right or wrong” – It is yours, and if you claim it, it is always right. I have my own personal preferences and those should be put aside in regards to your intention, (and shared if you are interested, in terms of critique). To define our intention as artists is not always easy and may take some time and certainly some thought. As artists we must ask ourselves, what do we feel and what do we wish to communicate with this piece, (or with our art in general). Will it be intentional, perhaps with a subject and a narrative, or will it be abstract or even amorphous? Will it be clearly defined or ambiguous? Is it symbolic, with intellectual interpretation as well? What attracted you to this subject, what is it’s raison d’etre, (reason for being). Does it have an intention or is the intention to be discovered in the process of creation, or is the process of creation it’s own intention?
Again, If you do not know at least some of your intention, it is impossible to evaluate your work.

For example: If your intention is to create a photo realistic depiction of something you are observing in nature, that takes a whole skill set and use of craft, (dissolving all brush strokes and “the hand of the artist”, perhaps with a fan brush or other tool or technique), etc. This is very different than say if you wanted to create an expressive painting or abstract painting of the same observed phenomenon. If your intention is to create something that is flat and decorative, it is a different evaluation than if you wanted to create a naturalistic three dimensional feel. Neither is right or wrong, just different intentions and when you understand the intention, than you can evaluate, without a value judgement, whether the work achieves the desired effect or what elements need to be
developed, skills and techniques mastered and practiced, formulas studied, etc to achieve the desired result. – It is not an evaluation of your worth as an artist or a human being – simply an evaluation of what is between you and your desired intention. Therefore there is really no such thing as a “failed painting”, but rather a painting that did not reach your intention, – but with insight it will reveal to you simply an opportunity for change, learning and growth.  Not failures, but gifts, revealing insights, each piece being a stepping stone in the process of creating your intention. Art, creativity, is always a process, it is never “finished”, (till we say so) – it is only a product when we market it or sell it, and that can be it’s own intention, and is unfortunately often governed with a whole different criteria.
The Letter:
Dear Brahmaji
Remember : What is important is to feel good, to feel your groove, to be in the Passion, the Flow and the Love – The Flow of Music – of your Art.

Technique is simply craft that comes from Practice, Patience & Persistence – Music – Art – comes from your soul – the Place of Love, the place of Connection – Your Passion.

Don’t listen to the rational mind of duality – us and them, good and bad, right and wrong – judgement & criticism – it is all false ego, creativity exists beyond boundaries.

Criticism and Critique are very different. Criticism and Self criticism is the ego and mind grasping not to die when you are merging with the ONE. Trying to sneak in the back door. Critique, Real Critique – is an evaluation – WITHOUT JUDGEMENT – of what needs to be done to achieve a particular goal – to reach your intention, don’t get confused.

A Real Teacher gives critique with love and support, without a value judgement or ego – under-standing to the TRUTH to support learning, growth & change. – A false teacher tries to tear down creativity – pretending to critique – critique is not, nor is ever, a judgement of your value as a human being, artist or musician – it is an assessment of what needs to be practiced or learned for change and growth, to move towards your intention – and nothing more – critique is not, nor should ever be criticism.

The Spiritual – Art – is connecting to the place within – Beyond Duality – In The Pocket – In The Groove – making all the connections – Feeling Connected. Listen to the beat, Follow the Rhythm – Follow Your Breath – The Flow of the brush, The Mantra- etc. Into your heART where you are The Music. There are many names humans use for the Oneness of Connection that Pervades All Things. – Brahman, The Spirit, the Tao,  Wakan Tanka, The Great Mystery, Elohim, Energy, Cosmos, Krsna – the All Attractive Reservoir of Pleasure, etc. etc. – It is in each and everyone of us – is our Essence. I, nor anyone else, has a monopoly on this name, experience or concept and hopefully you and each person discovers our own unique relationship and way of being that comes from connecting. The idea that we are separate from the creation, (“creator” and creative process) is a fabrication of our minds. How can we be separate from what we are. Use the Music to connect to that place within where you are – and be The One – The Light that shines and connects with all of the infinite Sparks of the Universe creating the Blazing Light of Brahman – more powerful than 10,000 Suns.
You are the Light, the Music – you are Art, even in the present -Wabi-sabi – perfect as you are in the Now – and nothing can diminish that. Art is Process – Not Product, (until it is marketed and sold). We are all coming into being in the Eternal Present.
Just breath deep, follow the Inner Rhythm & BE. – Love AllWays

On Wabi Sabi
I was first introduced to this concept back in undergraduate school at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts when studying calligraphy and watercolor with master Japanese painter Kaji Aso. In it’s simplest form I interpret it as the perfection within imperfection, but it is an aesthetic that has deep roots in Japanese philosophy.
Wikopedia: In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-sabi () is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.[2] The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.
Masla, “Summit, View West”, oil on canvas, displayed the month of May in the window of the R. Michelson Gallery announcing the exhibition “Views of the Mount Holyoke Range with the Kestrel Land Trust” – to see the various artist/images on exhibit, click here

Throughout my career as an artist, I have worked in many styles and genres in my continued exploration of creativity. During these many years I have always been drawn back to painting the landscape, and find it particularly gratifying to do so “en plein air”, painting while immersed in nature. From my first plein air landscape with my mentor at around age 12 I felt an affirmation of an already experienced connection to nature. I see my painting as a spiritual practice, not in any religious dogmatic sense, but my sense of spirituality is a sense of connectedness. To feel my presence as a part of nature, as both a witness and a participant in creation as it unfolds. For me, painting outdoors is a meditation, an opportunity to be in nature with focused and expanded awareness. Often times, as in the case of painting at the Summit, I often experience a sense of expansion and awe, a humbling and an ecstatic joy. In many of my landscape paintings I represent this feeling by pitting the finite against the infinite expanse. My painting is a celebration of life energy, connection and the beauty of creation. If I am successful, I am able to convey this to those that experience my artwork.
Summit View West
Masla, “Summit, View West”, oil on canvas, 18″ x 24


Summit View Rvisited:StatementGallery
Masla, Summit View Revisited, oil, 30″x40″, displayed with artists statement at R. Michelson Galleries
Progressively for more than 2 thousand years and particular at this point in history, humankind in general has become increasingly separated from the natural world. This is not simply an evolutionary development, the result of “taming of a harsh environment”, but a design created by the continued influence and abuse of a male dominated society. Rather than progressing towards “civilization”, humanity continues to cultivate it’s less than civilized traits, through a design that has sought to separate humans from our natural environment, -ultimately from ourselves. A design to separate us from our connection to our Mother Earth and one another. This is because in creating this illusion of separation, (because we can never actually be separated from nature, -from ourselves), we fall under the illusion that we can be independent of IT – our very Self, and we seek satisfaction in a myriad of illusions funneled to us in an artificial consumer society. More importantly, with the illusion of separation driven by male dominance permeating our consciousness, humans can more easily choose to subjugate, abuse and exploit “the other” – humans, animals, the environment, nature as a whole. The qualities and behavior we end up developing in this society separated from it’s connection to nature are ones of predatory antagonism, bullying, selfishness, prejudice, sexism, actions diminished in compassion and self awareness and inflated with a sense of privilege, self-importance, deception and conceit.
VIEW_FROM_THE SUMMIT, Homage to T. Cole 9x72dpiMasla, “View From the Summit – Homage to Thomas Cole” oil & alkyds on linen, 52″ x 76″, not in the current exhibition. Exhibited in the lobby of the Mt. Holyoke College Museum of Art for the opening of the exhibit, “Changing Prospects, The View from Mt. Holyoke”, Color reproduction pp 70 of Museum Exhibition catalogue.
Our current, so-called leaders, embody these negative qualities, (certainly not great role models for children or society), and they are bold enough, (or greedy and ignorant enough), to declare that our actions as individuals and as a world community, do not have an impact on our environment. They continuously act in such a way as to place profit before the endangerment of the earths delicate balance and the survival of future generations. I believe my role painting the landscape serves as a bridge to reconnect individuals and in a broader sense, society to our endangered landscape, to draw attention to the beauty that surrounds us, to identify our place and interdependence in nature, communicate and find balance. For artists to paint in nature today….
 Summit -View South 8X72dpi
Masla, “Summit, View South”, plein air/studio, oil on canvas, 20″x 30″. Not in the current exhibition. Private collection in Florence, MA

… though perhaps seen as “traditional” or “retro”, is actually an avant-garde act that is rapidly growing in a resurgent movement. It is a bold statement that flies in the face of pop culture and our societies conditioning of instant gratification and the illusion of separation from nature. By emphasizing the Sacred Landscape in art, we acknowledge our connection to and dependence on Nature and the precarious position of our relationship with Her and perhaps, point a way back to honoring Her.

SummitViewRevisitedMasla, “Summit View Revisited”, oil on linen, 30″x40″

Chiles N’ Nogada

preparing the chilies for Chili RellenosRoasting the Chiles on open flame

If you have ever been to the Casa then you know that one of the many highlights of the experience is having the privilege to indulge yourself in chef Rubys’ cuisine. A true artist of the palate, she daily creates a traditional Mexican Cuisine with a twist. She transforms fresh ingredients, vegetables, and fruits along with fresh farmer cheeses and cacoeque(sp?), (a delicious sweet, home made sour cream, similar to creme fresh, that she brings with her  from her home in the Mountains 40 minutes from the Casa), into delectable lacto/ovo vegetarian Mexican meals.

Ruby teaching a cooking class

Ruby teaching a cooking class at the Casa

Another highlight is on Fridays, Ruby graciously the Casa kitchen to all our guests that want to take advantage of her knowledge and experience her charm, with a cooking class. Gathering around the kitchen “cooking island” with a glass of wine, a cold beer, or the days aquas fruitas, (fruit juice), guests learn to make various salsas, guacamole, (everyone has their own recipe), how to make and “throw” a tortilla and then a different main entree. Often times it is the special Mexican Independence Day fiesta dish, (red, white and green, like the flag) – Chiles n’ Nogada. This is typically a dish that comes out in the fall, for the celebration, so all the traditional ingredients are not always available at the Casa workshops, (Dec. though March). Ruby being the true artist of the kitchen that she is, makes do with improvisation and substitution, so although her recipe here may not be totally “traditional” – it is always delicious! It is rumored that Chiles n Nogada was a favorite dish of Diego Rivera that Frida Kahlo would prepare for him. There are lots of smiles and laughter in Rubys’ kitchen, (even when there is not a cooking class), and the best part of cooking class is – we all get to eat the results for lunch! 

Participant with Ruby in cooking class

Chiles n’ Nogada – This Recipe Feeds 12, (modify accordingly) :

To begin, roast 12 Poblano peppers on an open flame of a stove, (you could presumably broil them in the oven), remembering to flip and turn them regularly. you want to get the skins charred black so that after the next step, you can easily… remove the charred skins, scraping them with a spoon, (see photo above).

As each is roasted you place them into a plastic bag, this is to “sweat” the peppers so that you can easily rub the charred skins off.

Prepare the Stuffing:

Fry textured soy protein, (250 grams) in about 3 tablespoons of oil or butter, (you can also use the more traditional chopped meat, pork or chicken).
Chop into small cubes: 2 Apples, 1 and 1/2 peaches, 1/4 cup cubed dried candied aqave, (you could also use candied pineapple or mango).  Add to cooked soy along with 100 grams of chopped almonds and 100 grams of raisins and mix well.

Stuff the chiles with the mixture, place on a tray in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Nogada Sauce: In a blender place 1/4 onion, 1 large clove garlic, 1 can medium cream, 2 cans of evaporated milk, 1/4 cup of almonds, 1/2 cup of shelled walnuts, 1/2 block of cream cheese – blend. In a sauce pan put three tablespoons of butter and brown 1/2 kilo of maseca, (corn), flour and then add the sauce from the blender.

Remove Chiles from the oven, place each one on a plate, pour a healthy dose of the Nogada sauce on the chile, garnish with chopped walnuts or pecans, pomegranate seeds, and a sprinkle of minced cilantro. – Enjoy!

-excerpts from an October press release:

International Peace Garden Foundation announced that Puerto Vallarta, Mexico has been selected and honored, as the site of the 2017 International Peace Garden.

The Peace Garden will be located at the Vallarta Botanical Garden along the approach to a new multi-faith chapel. “Puerto Vallarta is a leader in Mexico for respecting diversity of cultures and human rights, along with overlapping many of the priorities of the International Peace Garden Foundation” said Paula Savage, Foundation President.


Tony van Hasselt does a plein air watercolor demo while at the P.V. Botanical Gardens during his “Tropical Escapaint” week at the Casa.

Canada presented the first Peace Garden to the United States in 1990 in recognition of their long lasting friendship as they share the longest undefended border in the world for over 200 years. This began the tradition of naming recipient countries. The tulip became the official flower of the International Peace Garden because of its significance in Canada, tied to World War II and the Dutch Royal Family.
The International Peace Garden Foundation is a non profit organization established in 1990 traveling the world to advance global friendship and international understanding through the creation of Peace Gardens.
Presently there are twenty-two International Peace Gardens spanning five continents. Mexico is the second country in Central America to receive this honor. San Jose, Costa Rica was honored in 1999.
Plans are underway to complete the project by February for the planned dedication on February 16th, 2017. “The design includes ornamental terracing and access ramps for persons with disabilities. Plantings will focus on a geographical region that gave birth to several of the leading world religions through plants that grow together in harmony with each other and with our native plants as well,” said Vallarta Botanical Garden Executive Director, Neil Gerlowski.
Like never before, the future of our world and its inhabitants depends on people coming together to work out peaceful solutions for our collective challenges. We can all play a part in this and shape the world we live in. One way towards accomplishing this  is to set aside places dedicated for such actions. Outdoor spaces filled with natural beauty are especially appropriate as these landscapes restore the soul and create the perfect settings for purposeful reflection towards positive change.

While this designation is certain to bring great notoriety to the Vallarta Botanical Garden, the city of Puerto Vallarta, and the Banderas Bay region as a welcoming destination dedicated to international peace and friendship, it brings no direct funding. The Vallarta Botanical Gardens is accepting tax-deductible donations (Mexico, Canada and the US) for this project. Please visit for more information.

For the past three years now our family has celebrated the traditional Thanksgiving day a little differently than most of the nation. We are gathering to give special thanks and feasting as a family today, Friday, the day after the traditional holiday. Monica and I along with Narieka and Brahm, (who are home from college), will gather late this afternoon to give thanks and celebrate. We will facetime with our oldest daughter Aiyana, who is with friends in California at the moment. Though we are sad that she is not with us to feast, we are incredibly proud of her and her vision, which is connected to this story… Before Aiyana left to drive out west, she gathered donations of clothing and camping gear that she dropped on route to warriors for the Earth, “The Guardians of the Water”, that are staging protest & resistance at Standing Rock . She spent a few days at Standing Rock, helping cook food and tending to children. She said it was one of the most incredible experiences of her life.

As an artist and an art educator my whole life, I have always taught that the basics of all art, (and life), is about relationships and connections, seeing the connections, and communication – and that the greatest of all works of art that we can create, is how we choose to paint our life. One of my greatest teachers in this regard, one of the greatest artists I know, though she is not a painter, is my wife Monica. She has always regarded relationship, connection, truth and kindness as the highest priority. To that end throughout our life together, she has always brought me and our children into connection with teachers, artists and situations, etc. that foster that reality. It was Monica that had brought our kids that first time, (I was in Mexico), to Plymouth, MA to show support for the National Day of Morning, (it was her sister Maura, that shared with her the event). Please don’t misinterpret me, we have nothing against the fundamental idea of a day of thanks being set aside for family and friends to gather together and celebrate life’s blessings, (we try to do this daily), In fact we think it is great and celebrate everyone doing so! But in light of our awareness and in trying to educate ourselves and our children in social justice and living in respect for the earth and all its’ creatures, we felt impelled to join the Indigenous American People, (and those throughout the world) in solidarity of protesting a myth that has been perpetuated by American culture at their expense and ultimately the expense of all people and the Earth. And certainly, with the current situation taking place at Standing Rock and what we experienced here in MA these past years fighting corporate greed trying to lay pipeline HERE In ASHFIELD and other areas of MA, (Yes folks, it can happen in your backyard as well! – see more on this below and the video of me speaking out at the hearing in Greenfield, MA this past March), we felt it even more important to attend this year.

As I am sure you are aware, as an artist, you cannot make a mark, change a color or shape on the canvas, without it effecting the whole canvas. And similarly, we cannot create an action or belief system in the world without it effecting the world around us. One of the biggest myths of western civilization is that we are all independent of and separate, from one another and as human beings – separate from the Earth, creation-environment around us. Of course this fundamental spin on reality has been perpetuated throughout history for a definite selfish purpose – if we are lulled into the belief that we are separate from the earth and all that is dependent on it, (including various races of peoples, etc), then it is very easy to justify domination and exploitation, and ultimately destruction, (thus you can pretend that science does not exist, there is no climate change and people that are “different” from you have less rights).

The gathering in Plymouth MA, that this year had approximately 1,000 attendees, began near Coles Hill, where in 1970 Frank James, a Wampanoag leader was barred from delivering a speech about the truth of his people and left in protest a ceremony celebrating the 350th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival.

A plaque at Coles Hill now reads: “Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience.”  

In the midst of this gathering were great speeches on truth, unity and consciousness and a march with chants to petition President Obama to pardon Native American Activist Leonard Peltier as well as chants that though seem to be effecting only those far away, (Standing Rock Reservation) effect all of us. People reverberated -“You can’t drink oil!” and “WATER IS LIFE!”.  The message is very close to home, where we had been fighting corporate greed wanting to bring a pipeline through MA for fracked gas. Though we had succeeded in cutting off it’s head here in MA, much like the many headed mythical Hydra, the serpent of corporate greed, sprouts its’ head elsewhere.
But unlike Standing Rock, I believe one of the reasons we were successful, (at least for the time being), is that the majority of those opposed to the pipeline in MA are white, middle class land owners, activists and farmers and Standing Rock is meeting even heavier attack is it is a Lakota Sioux Indian Reservation and the U.S. has a notorious 400+ year history of abuse and destruction, not only of Native American rights, (breaking every treaty ever signed with native peoples), but a systematic obliteration of their culture as well. The use of Extreme Force by the U.S. government against Native peoples perpetuates from the past to the present. In this fight at Standing Rock, it also appears that the “President Elect”,
Mr. Trump has a personal investment in Energy Transfer Systems – the folks behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, (a bit of a conflict of interest for a President?!).    

As many of the native speakers mentioned at the gathering, it is up to each of us -We The People – to fight –  not for a particular race or ethnic group, not for a particular religion, not for a political party, Democrat, Republican, whatever, not for a nation or any other made up category of words and divisions supporting the illusion of separateness – but it is all of our duty to fight for the Earth!       

Watch the video of Artist Robert Masla raising his voice among dozens of concerned citizens at DPU Hearings, in March of this year in Greenfield, MA, to Stop the Pipeline,
“We Are All Connected”

Read this from NPR on  Standing Rock  


A Workshop at Casa de Los Artistas, Robert Masla Studios South 

“I loved the Casa Experience. Lovely and exquisite environment and sights! Lots to paint in plein air. Tony’s energy for teaching stands out in my mind along with his wit, charm and insight into improving my painting! -This is quality instruction in an authentic and colorful location with gracious and articulate hosts and staff. Awesome! (how can you make any money with such lavish dinners-!), So appreciated. One big dinner would have been fine.” – S. M., Seattle


Tony van Hasselt, Market Days, watercolor on paper

If you have ever had the privilege of taking a workshop with Tony van Hasselt you are aware of the great energy and joy – the passion – he brings to painting in plein air, as he calls it, “natures studio without walls”, and sharing that passion with others. You also know that Tony shares a whole lot more than his passion and just plein air painting. He shares many years of painting and teaching experience, and that has translated into some very concrete methods he has created to help you improve your painting skills regardless of what media you use or whether you work in plein air or the studio. Another unique aspect of this workshop is that Tony shows his methods for creating an “Artists Sketchbook Journal”. Being one of the originators of international travel painting workshops, (Tony created his travel paint learn business, Painting Holidays in 1963, which he later sold to American Artist Magazine), Tony has literally dozens of such sketchbook journals from his adventures around the globe and opens up his methods to participants.


Tony van Hasselt, sketchbook journal, view from the zocalo, at the Mt. town of El Tuito.

Through daily demonstrations both in the studio and in plein air, Tony teaches principles as well as techniques and methods to create strong paintings. Tony also shares his unique insight in offering suggestions to artists for their work back in the studio by painting on a sheet of acetate laid on top of their paintings. Artist can then photograph the suggestions and apply them later to their work if they desire.

You can see a couple of new video examples of Tony sharing his painting wisdom by clicking this link and scrolling down. The first is Tony putting to practice the axiom he likes to quote from Ben Franklin – “Failing to prepare – is preparing to fail”. The video takes place on the first morning of the workshop where Tony is doing a tonal value sketch on the beach in front of the Casa. In this short 6+ minute demo, (though much of the dialogue is drowned out by the sound of the surf and gulls, etc. I type in his instruction so you don’t miss it), Tony emphasizes the point of establishing your values, the energy and composition of your painting in a small thumbnail. – I also like the fact that it gives you a real feel of painting on the beach in Boca, one of my favorite pastimes!

Tony van Hasselt, El Tuito, watercolor on paper – click on the image above and scroll down for videos

The second video takes place in the Casa studio. After a day of painting at one of the many exotic locations, (the beach in front of the Casa or at Colomitos Cove, The Botanical Gardens, the square in the Mt. town of El Tuito…), Tony takes the work of participants that would like his insightful feedback, places a sheet of acetate over it and paints his suggestions on the acetate.

Though he primarily works in watercolor, the principles he teaches are applicable regardless of the media you choose to work in. 8 of these principles Tony has created into a visual system, a check list of reminders an artist can use in evaluating the progress of their work. Here is what it says about these “Building Blocks of Painting” on Tony’s website;

“Since artists think and learn visually, van Hasselt designed a visual reminder system which eliminates the need to remember hundreds of do’s and don’ts. It is based on age old design principles handed down by our forefathers in art. This system serves to visually remind you what to do and think about during the painting process. Used as a checklist, it helps you to analyze just what is wrong in uncompleted work.  Since there are no “rules” in art, these guidelines are based on the experience passed down by generations of masters in every painting medium and style.

So what are these Building Blocks of Painting and what do they look like… 

… In each of his workshops Tony goes over these Building Blocks, one at a time and demonstrates how they are used in painting.

They are:









But, as Tony points out, artists are visual people, so he created a visual symbol system, (he gives out small pocket cards for artists to carry, and sometimes posters for their studios). It looks like this:


On his website Tony goes on to explain each of the diagrams and how to apply them in detail. For example, the first symbol on the top left, TONALITY – The most important Building Block, he begins with the following:

“The symbol suggests grouping a subject’s tonal values into three major ones. The light, medium and dark tonal range covers all colors. In addition there is the accent of the white quadrant and the accent of the very dark colors suggested by the border.”

He goes on to explain how to see values and “hear – see- them as visual chords” and arranging them in your composition. You can read all about his Building Blocks and so much more by visiting his website: on the left hand column you can click on The Building Blocks – Happy Painting!



“An incredible experience in learning the art of painting! Would not have missed this! John MacDonald is a superb teacher and dedicated artist.” – Steve and Judy Puthuff, Calif. participants in John MacDonalds 2016 workshop at the Casa

Johns Studio

Visit John MacDonalds’ Studio, click here

When I was putting this blog together I received an email from John, (very synchronistic), with a link to a video on Eric Rhoads Facebook, (among other things, Eric is the publisher,  of Plein Air Magazine), where he had posted a video interview with John at his studio, (located about an hour from me in Williamstown, MA.). Click the image of Johns studio above or to the left to be taken to the video.
If you have ever studied with John, you have had both the privilege of watching him paint as well benefit from his thorough explanation of his process, keen eye and supportive words. If you haven’t, you should take advantage of the opportunity to accelerate your growth as a painter before he takes a break from teaching in 2018. Now is the time to garner the wealth of information, insight and inspiration he shares. (you can read more about the actual workshop at the Casa here). 

When I tell you John is dedicated to painting and teaching and shares a wealth of information, I am very serious. His newsletters are filled with advice on painting and he literally gives each student that comes to the Casa workshop a booklet filled with his teaching. I would like to share with you here just a snippet from one of these. 


Stream Golds

John MacDonald, “Stream Golds”, oil

Painting Water • Part I: Rivers and Streams

Water comes in an endless variety of forms: lakes, ponds, placid steams, muddy rivers, mountain cascades, and the ever-changing ocean. Throw in a variety of weather conditions, differences in water quality, and the changing light, and the complexity found in the appearance of water can quickly become overwhelming. Because of the breadth of the topic and the limitations on my time, I’m going to address it over the next several newsletters. In this issue, we’ll look at some basic rules of painting all types of water and then dive deeply (sorry, couldn’t resist) into the specifics of streams and rivers, their appearance, forms, and how we can begin to translate their complexity into paint.

Rule #1: Don’t paint water, paint shapes. The only way to be able to see and skillfully paint the complex madness of water is to see it as a group of interlocking shapes, each with a specific value, color, and edge. Shapes! Shapes! Shapes! You are NOT painting water but SHAPES. If you can acquire this skill–to see a stream as simply a variety of 2-dimensional shapes and then carefully translate those into paint on your canvas– lo and behold, you’ll step back and discover that you’ve created a 3-dimensional illusion of water. It’s magic and it begins with seeing and then painting shapes. (By the way, this rule applies not only to painting water but for painting anything: cityscapes, a still-life, the figure, etc. It’s a must-have skill!)

Rule #2: You can’t paint what you can’t see. In theory,… –  if you can see and paint shapes then you can stop here and ignore the rest of this newsletter. It’s not absolutely necessary to know what you’re looking at when trying to paint water–it’s all just shapes. Well, that’s the theory. In practice, because we can’t paint shapes that we can’t see, it’s helpful to know what to look for. Let’s break down the shapes. . .

The visual anatomy of steams and rivers

A stream or river typically has three essential visual components:
1. Bottom / Deep Water
2. Reflections (sky and objects)
3. Surface items (Objects, ripples, or rapids)

Untitled 4

1. The bottom into deep water.

If the water in a stream or river is shallow and clear, the bottom is nearly always visible, especially near the edges of the banks. As the water deepens, the bottom and its details will fade from view. The color will shift towards the blue in clear water or a deeper brown ochre in muddy water. The value will also shift, usually becoming slightly darker. As the water deepens and the bottom disappears we begin to see the reflections in the water.

Direction of Light

Untitled 3

In the photo above, with the sun behind us and with less value contrast between sky, ground, and water, the transition from bottom/deep water to reflections is gradual. The details visible on the bottom of the stream slowly fade into the deeper color of the water which then gives way to the reflec- tions. Notice that the entire stream is in a narrow value range (squint at the photo) with color shifts becoming more important than shifts in value. The entire stream is almost middle value.

In the photo below we look into the sun with a light sky and very dark, silhouetted trees. Notice how the bottom is only visible in the dark reflections of the trees. The reflected sky is so light that it washes out any view of the bottom. Within the dark reflections, the bottom details fade and darken as they move back into the darkest areas of the reflections (#3).

Untitled 3

Bottom details

Because the eye exaggerates contrasts, we often paint the details visible in the stream bottom with too much value and color contrast and with edges too hard. Details should subtle. Keep the values and colors close and the edges soft!

Deep Water

In those cases where the bank drops off so steeply that no bottom is visible, only the color of the deep water is visible, usually a dark brown or blue depending on water quality. This can be the darkest area in the stream. As the eye moves away from the bank the reflections become more evident.
©JOHNMACDONALD 2016  To download the full article, (there is a bit more) and others, as well as sign up for Johns newsletter visit his website: