Vincent’s Trees and Vincent’s Gardens by Ralph Skea



If you are a Facebook friend, you may have noticed all the Van Gogh paintings I have been sharing on my feed. This is because I have become fascinated with Van Gogh’s mark making ever since I was commissioned to copy the painting of Roses by Vincent Van Gogh at the NGA.

Being primarily an artist that favors a highly rendered finish with a lot of emphasis on the nuanced transitions in my own work, I get mesmerized by the thick and choppy paint handling Van Gogh favored. I am boggled by his ability to express three dimensional form with stark transitions and minimal modeling. As a result, I have been devouring his work lately, online and in books.

So I was especially happy to stumble upon these two books on his paintings of gardens and trees at the NGA bookstore.

Vincent’s Trees and Vincent’s Gardens
by Ralph Skea

In Vincent’s Trees: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh the focus of the book is all about how he depicted trees throughout his art career.  The book is broken down into chapters of his life and what I find remarkable is how he employed trees in his work to define distance in the landscape.

By emphasizing the diminishing size of the trees, he was quickly able to convey a sense of distance.

fav-art-books-van-gogh-02-03 It was in this book that I also realized how throughout his career he would paint orchards.  They are a reoccurring theme in his work.  In the Dutch Trees section, I feel as if there is an overpowering sense of loneliness while in his paintings from Provence, the trees seem to always be flowering, like this painting above.  There is a whimsy in the Provencal trees that the Dutch trees lack.

Because I am fascinated with how Van Gogh interpreted the world around him, I especially appreciate the examples that show how he would capture the scene in a pen and ink drawing and then go on to paint it with oil.  He kept the hatchmarks in the drawings as much as he did in his paintings.

Until getting this book on his depictions of trees, I never realized how he well he used them to frame and define the center of interest in his work.  His skies will always be remembered, but he often framed or emphasized the sky by trees that were included into his work.

In the book, Vincent’s Gardens: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh, I was fascinated to see how he went about capturing the variety of green space he observed.  On the table of contents spread, you are introduced to a busy composition where you, the viewer, are peering in through an allee of trees.  It is early spring, so the trees are still somewhat bare, but the cultivated plots beyond are beginning to awake.  This is where Van Gogh’s skill of creating a believable environment with such direct marks boggles my mind.  Color, brushstroke direction, and paint texture all come together in a compelling way.

To me his ability to draw and paint are fascinating.  I am riveted how he is able to make a meadow of different grasses so interesting.

Whether Van Gogh was working with oils, watercolors, or pen and ink, the interest he had in growing plants is evident.

This pen and ink drawing of a fountain has got to be my most favorite drawing of his in these two books, I am enthralled by his use of contour and hatch marks to convey the stone basin, the craggy feeling of the trees and their bark, and then how he uses watered down ink to draw in the background structures.

Both books are full of eye candy and inspiration.

Vincent’s Trees: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh
Vincent’s Gardens: Paintings and Drawings by Van Gogh


Leave a comment (1) Filed under Book Review, Friday Inspiration

Backyard Idyll, 8 x 10 inches

Backyard Idyll

Backyard Idyll

“Living a creative life”

Shortly after Naomi was born, I came up with this phrase as a way to center my life and help me feel more comfortable about all the new responsibilities I had and how they sometimes would take me away from the studio for extended periods of time. This phrase became my mantra, my inspiration to bring creativity into any activity I happened to be focused on.

By trying to incorporate a creative outlook on everything I did, I was also able to begin to see the beauty in the different facets of my life. To find pleasure and to identify the remarkable in the simple things that populate the daily routine.

As it is summer, Naomi and I have been spending copious hours outside and now that she is older and is better able to entertain herself some, it has been a natural evolution for me to bring out my easel and supplies to paint while she is playing.

This painting was completed on a breezy afternoon while Naomi played in a slip-n-slide nearby. The dappled light of our shaded backyard and the fun she was having turned our backyard into an idyllic place.

Framed Painting: $500
{8″ x 10″ – oil on canvas panel}
On display at Green Springs Garden, Mansion House, Annandale, VA
Available for purchase, please email me

PS. My Painting in the Garden Class starts next weekend, if you are in the area, I would love to have you join in :)

Leave a comment (8) Filed under Artwork, available paintings, landscape

Books about Claude Monet’s House and Gardens

Friday Inspiration


Last summer I got to travel to Northern Yorkshire in England and while over there I was blown away by the wild and lush gardens some of the houses had. I was especially enthralled by the established garden boarders. And I returned home determined to really get my flower boarders moving along…

Now fast forward to this past spring when I began copying Claude Monet’s painting “In the Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil” at the NGA. And I became fixated on how Monet lived and created his inspiration. These two experiences combined made me particularly interested in how I too could improve my gardens and surroundings to really build the environment that would be a constant inspiration for my art, which of course, led me to and the impulse to buy a few books…

Today, I want to share three books that all focus on Monet’s life and style of living.


The first book I want to share with you is Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens by Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray is a gardener and photographer, and she fills her book with beautiful photographs of Giverny.


I particularly like how she shares all seasons of being at Giverny, not just the height of the growing season.



And at the end of the book, she has these lovely garden plans so if you are so inclined, you too can capture some of the beauty of Giverny in your own garden… I have found these to be helpful as I planned for this year’s garden, but I must admit I do not know if I would ever implement the entirety of these plans. But they are great jumping off points.


The second book I want to share with you is Monet’s House: An Impressionistic Interior by Heidi Michels

Okay, it was this book that impacted me the most this year… I was struck by how Monet really built the perfect environment for his artistic vision. He purchased this house, and immediately made improvements on it, like converting the attached barn into his studio, that doubled as a parlor at times. He was very decided in how he wanted to decorate his house and even went as far as designing the fine china that was used when special guests were present.

Monet, designed his gardens so he could paint in them and the house he lived his days in. I admire his ability to create the world that was a constant inspiration for his art.

fav-art-books-monets-passion-02-01{the dining room}

fav-art-books-monets-passion-02-02{the kitchen}



{his studio that had once been an attached barn}fav-art-books-monets-passion-02-05

fav-art-books-monets-passion-02-06{his studio he built later}

I so envy his waterlily studio, especially the translucent glass ceiling.  Talk about always having a consistent and intense light source!



And for the third book, it focuses on the gardens at Giverny with a special emphasis on the color harmonies found in his gardens. The Magic of Monet’s Garden: His Planting Plans and Color Harmonies by Derek Fell

I really love the images in this book, and it offers a lot of information that will be helpful as continue to improve my garden.  I am learning that gardening is really an ongoing process where you plant things, see how they fare, and if they do well, you may leave them in their spot or maybe not…




fav-art-books-monets-passion-03-04Chapter 5, Monet’s Favorite Plants is one of my favorite sections in the book.  It is full of great photos and for me, was a wealth of inspiration…




I have been so fixated on my garden this year, and these books have been a great source to help develop my plans for this growing season and for the next few years as well.


Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration, and Insights from the Painter’s Gardens by Elizabeth Murray

Monet’s House: An Impressionistic Interior by Heidi Michels

The Magic of Monet’s Garden: His Planting Plans and Color Harmonies by Derek Fell

Leave a comment Filed under Book Review, Friday Inspiration

Set for Four, 16 x 20 inches

Set for Four Set for Four

One of my favorite things to do is to plan an alfresco dinner. To me, there is nothing more relaxing and renewing to the soul than eating a meal outside.

Last summer I began to investigate the idea of painting still lifes outdoors, which led to many block-ins but typically by the end of the painting sessions I would wipe them down. That was until I began this painting…

With this painting, it just came together. I was inspired to set the table with my great-grandmother’s chocolate set and imagined that I was recording the prelude to a relaxing afternoon in the shade… set for four.

The technique I employed for this painting is a bit different than what I use for my studio still lifes, and I love it for that reason. I had to paint with speed and react to the changing light and heat of summer. It was also freeing in that I was trying to capture the impression of that day.

Framed Painting: $1,400
{16″ x 20″ (40.6 x 55.9 cm) – oil on linen}
{22″ x 26″ (55.9 x 66 cm) with frame}
Available for purchase, please email me

Leave a comment Filed under Artwork, available paintings, still life

Painting in the Garden Class


{a still life in progress}

This past weekend was a monumental one for me in two ways. First, on Sunday, the reception for my first large solo-exhibition took place. In this show 25 paintings and four graphite drawings were on display, and I feel the exhibit really marks a point in my art career where all the hard work of the previous five years is rewarded. It was fun seeing my work grouped together and in a place other than my living room… and in observing the collection of paintings, it is remarkable seeing the repeated themes in my work.

The second thing that I embraced this weekend is my new willingness to begin teaching group classes. Up until now, I have limited my teaching experiences to private one-on-one lessons. However, I have been considering teaching group classes more, after several weeks of thinking about it, I have decided to offer an eight-week plein air class in my home garden.


{another still life in progress}

This is because for the last two years I have been painting in my yard, sometimes focusing on my flowers in situ and at other times setting up still-life vignettes. I have found so much to enjoy in these experiences that I want to share it with others.

My goal for this class is to cover the basics of painting and drawing outdoors with an emphasis on slowing down and enjoying the creative process of observing and creating art.

Class starts in a few weeks on Saturday, July 26th

Painting in the Garden
Enroll now via Paypal $240

Saturdays, July 26, 2014 to September 20, 2014
No class on August 30th, Labor Day Weekend

painting-in-the-garden-collage for web

{a watercolor of irises, fragrant nicotiana, and a still life in progress}

Each class will include a demonstration, plus having time to paint. Students may work in oil, watercolor, pastel, or pen and ink. Weekly lessons will cover composition, color, and technique with an overarching focus on slowing down and finding appreciation in the simple details. All levels are welcome.

Treat yourself to some quality time and plein air painting in my garden. Set up an easel or paint in a journal, surrounded by dappled shade, lush greenery, and colorful blossoms. You choose to paint directly from the garden or from a still-life vignette — whatever strikes your fancy…


To learn more about the class, visit the Painting in the Garden Class page, or download the class brochure to register by mail.

Leave a comment (2) Filed under Teaching, Technique