This past summer, 30 outstanding young artists were invited to spend
three weeks studying the landscape in upstate New York, where they
applied their figure-drawing skills to rendering nature. The intention
of the four instructors was to revive the approach taken by
19th-century artists who established America’s first indigenous school
by M. Stephen Doherty
by Jacob Collins.
Many of the artists associated with art schools and ateliers that
emphasize an academic approach to education will readily admit that
their preparation for drawing and painting the landscape is not
commensurate with their highly developed skills in rendering the human
Although the instructors at those schools require students to spend
hundreds of hours studying anatomy, drawing plaster casts, copying
Bargue plates, and painting live models, they follow an unstructured
approach to landscape.
This deficiency became the main topic of conversation among a group
of artists who often spend the month of August painting together. They
concluded it was time to develop a program in which artists would gain
an understanding of the science of nature, make careful drawings of the
elements of a scene, create plein air studies of the impact of
atmosphere and light, and use that collective knowledge to create
studio paintings. In short, they wanted to learn how to approach nature
with the same degree of understanding that is evident in the work of
such Hudson River School painters as Asher B. Durand, Frederic Edwin
Church, Thomas Cole, William Trost Richards, and William Stanley
by Ryan S. Brown.
by Camie Davis.
In August of 2007, four of those artists—Jacob Collins, Nicholas
Hiltner, Edward Minoff, and Travis Schlaht—led a three-week workshop
for the Hudson River School for Landscape, which was sponsored by
private donors and the Catskill Mountain Foundation as part of its
Sugar Maples Center for Arts and Education. Thirty students were
selected from more than 100 applicants and were given free room and
board in the town of Hunter, New York, in the Catskill Mountains
district of New York State. During that time, the students listened to
lectures, visited the studios and painting sites of 19th-century
artists, created drawings and paintings, and reviewed one another’s
work. By the end of the workshop, all of the participants left with a
determination to continue their studies and to begin making larger
studio paintings based on their increased knowledge.
|A View of the
Notch in the
by Thomas Cole.
and Travis Schlaht.
|A guide (center)
Jacob Collins states that the mission of the program is to build “a
new movement of American art, modeling itself after the artistic,
social, and spiritual values of the Hudson River School painters. It
will bring together the reawakening enthusiasm for the old American
painters, the vigorous but unfocused scene of contemporary landscape
paintings, and the urgent need for a renewed reverence for the land. By
bringing back the skills and spirit of the Pre-Impressionist landscape
painters, the program will give much needed direction to a new
generation of painters. As they learn to carefully study and reflect on
the trees and clouds and blades of grass and cliffs, their paintings
will become beautiful. Ideally, these artists and their beautiful
representations of nature will help to lead the culture back to a
stronger connection to the landscape. The school seeks to make a
contribution both to the art world and the conservation movement.”
|Joshua Fishbein used a
portable easel to
support the drawing
surface he worked on.
“The student will learn to research compositions through studied
pencil drawings,” the workshop organizers wrote in the brochure
advertising the program. “As these linear drawings develop, they will
define each of the specific details and elements that will constitute
the final studio painting. Additional pencil studies will begin to
explore value with white chalk on toned paper.”
Surely the workshop participants—highly skilled artists
themselves—would gain little from basic exercises. Schlaht disagrees.
“We knew that drawing would have to be reinforced, so during the first
week of the workshop the participants just drew elements of the
landscape,” he explains. “The focus was on individual details and
aspects of the landscape rather than the big picture. That is, the
participants were asked to make drawings of the structural elements of
rocks, trees, water, and fields while seeing in a three-dimensional
manner, not just the light revealing the visual elements.
“We talked about the specialization of each stage, of breaking the
landscape painting process down into the thumbnail sketches to work out
ideas,” Schlaht adds. “Then students created more developed line
drawings in which they worked out their ideas more completely. Finally,
they made more developed, detailed graphite or tonal drawings that
could be used as a reference when creating the finished painting in the
In addition to spending a considerable amount of time
drawing, the workshop participants made tonal studies to evaluate the
value structure of a scene, as well as plein air oil studies of the
light, color, and atmosphere in the Catskill Mountains. “The aim was to
find the pattern of values and colors,” Edward Minoff explains. “Those
studies would then become additional sources of information to take
into the studio to compose larger, better informed paintings.
“I really understand the usefulness of this kind of research because
I’ve been focused on painting seascapes over the past few years, and
I’ve been using drawings and plein air sketches as the basis of my
studio work,” Minoff adds. “I’ve studied the physics of waves, clouds,
and trees, and I wrote notes all over my graphite drawings about how
waves crest, crash, and create piles of foam. I’m especially interested
in gaining a better understanding of water because the paintings I
admire most have a sense of movement that photographs don’t necessarily
record. Artists need to have a really thorough understanding of the
subject they’re painting in order to make the image convincing.
|Hudson River School 2008 Workshop
The organizers of the Hudson River
School for Landscape
are planning a
six-week session at the same location
in the summer of
2008. Dates and
application procedures will be
announced on the
organization’s website at
Inquiries can also be e-mailed to
|Mass of Trees,
by Mikel Olazábal,
graphite and white
“The students in the workshop were incredibly skilled, well
informed, and dedicated,” Minoff continues. “Amazing work was done
during the three weeks. There were detailed drawings, color studies,
and plein air paintings. It was daunting to critique paintings that
were so beautifully executed by the participants.”
Nicholas Hiltner shared his efforts to create pen-and-ink landscape
drawings with the workshop participants. “I spent time studying
Rembrandt’s drawings and taught myself to work with a quill
pen-and-ink,” he explains. “I demonstrated some techniques to the
students, and they took the medium further in their own projects. We
got together at night to review one another’s work, and the rate of
figuring things out and getting new ideas grew exponentially because
there were so many committed people working in a close environment.
“Before the workshop, I went to see an exhibition of Asher B.
Durand’s graphite drawings at the New York Historical Society and I
fell in love with them,” Hiltner explains. “The museum staff brought
out portfolios of his sketchbooks and drawings, and I could actually
see how he worked out his ideas and collected information for his
by Arantzazu Martinez,
At the end of the three-week workshop, students were reminded of
Jacob Collins’ words as they appeared in the brochure that attracted
them in the first place: “The goal of the field studies and the
theoretical investigations is the construction of a larger studio
landscape. The landscape painters of the 17th century up through the
Hudson River period made their paintings in this manner. The students
will learn to synthesize their drawings and plein air paintings with
ideas about light and air and perspective and knowledge of the
landscape. The combination of the empirical with the rational is
fundamental to all classical art. Artistic principles of subject
matter, composition, and perspective will unify these works. It is
through extensive and real engagement that the artist learns to capture
the spirit of the landscape. The many hundreds of hours spent out in
the sun and wind, scrupulously studying nature, transform the artist.
It was by this experience that the old masters of the landscape
realized their art. And it is how we hope to realize ours.”
Arturo Garcia, one of the participating artists, summed up his
experience by saying, “This event was an unforgettable experience
because of all the talented individuals who participated and the great
setting that was painted. I feel personally energized to continue my
work as an artist.”
by Jacob Collins, 2006,
oil, 5 x 7.
About the Artists
earned a B.A. degree from Columbia College, in New York City, and
studied art at the New York Academy of Art, in New York City; École
Albert Defois, in Les Cerqueux, France; and the Art Students League of
New York, in Manhattan. He also created copies of master works at The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City; the Louvre, in Paris; the
Prado, in Madrid; and the Galleria degli Uffizi, in Florence. He is the
founder of The Water Street Atelier, and he is a founder and the
director of The Grand Central Academy of Art, both in New York City.
His drawings and paintings have been exhibited in museums, art centers,
and galleries around the world. Collins’ 2008 solo exhibition schedule
includes a landscape show in March at Hirschl & Adler Modern, in
New York City, and an exhibition of figurative works in June at the
Galerie Eric Coatalem, in Paris. For more information on Collins, visit
his website at www.jacobcollinspaintings.com.
|Rock Study, Kaaterskill Falls
by Nicholas Hiltner,
2007, oil, 8 x 10.
Collection the artist.
Nicholas Hiltner studied
at the Cleveland Institute of Art and later studied with Jacob Collins
at The Water Street Atelier. He has exhibited his artwork at John Pence
Gallery, in San Francisco, and teaches at The Grand Central Academy of
Art, in New York City. For more information on Hiltner, visit his
website at www.nhiltner.com.
by Edward Minoff.
Edward Minoff studied
at the Art Students League of New York and the National Academy of Art
and graduated from the Tisch School of Arts at New York University, all
in Manhattan. After founding a commercial animation house, AMPnyc, he
studied with Jacob Collins at The Water Street Atelier. He later
journeyed to Italy to study at the Florence Academy of Art. Minoff has
exhibited his artwork in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Santa Fe,
Seattle, and Sag Harbor. For more information on Minoff, visit his
website at www.edwardminoff.com.
|Stream at Kaaterskill Falls
by Travis Schlaht, 2007,
oil, 9 x 12.
earned a B.A. degree from the University of the Pacific, in Stockton,
California, and later joined The Water Street Atelier, where he studied
with Jacob Collins. He has exhibited his artwork in New York, San
Francisco, Washington, DC, and Houston, and he currently teaches at The
Water Street Atelier and The Grand Central Academy of Art, both in New
York City. For more information on Schlaht, visit his website at www.classicist.org/grandcentraacademy/schlaht.html.
M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Workshop.