In the yard of the Grey Barn, our easels form an abstract V, like a flock of geese on a new trajectory. Island painter Traeger di Pietro stands in the lead, guiding Carol Klein, Caren Sacks, Nancy Antik, and me through the medium of plein air painting. For me, this was more of a trial flight, while those around me seemed well accustomed to the discipline; their brushes sure, establishing depth and details seemingly beyond the capacity of their canvases.
Last Thursday was the first Farm. Field. Sea. adventure to combine the Grey Barn tour and tasting with a plein air painting lesson from Island artist Traeger di Pietro. In its third year, Farm. Field. Sea. (FFS) is more accessible and inspired than ever. FFS is Nevette Previd’s delicious innovation. She connects farmers, craftspeople, Islanders, and visitors through these hands-on, food-inspired experiences. There is always a learning component and a doing component, and you always leave with new knowledge, friends, and a souvenir. Other classes include “Let’s Shellibrate,” Island shellfishing extravaganzas; and “Farmer and Chef for a Day,” combining farm tours with glorious on-the-spot meals. Recently, Nevette has also incorporated private, customized tours. “We also have flower workshops coming up with Morning Glory Farm July 27 and August 8 that I am super-excited about,” Nevette said.
Having just recently tagged along on a Grey Barn tour, I was very much looking forward to the chance to walk around the gorgeous farm again, and of course a second go at their cheese selection. The idea of painting beside a pro was a bit more intimidating.
It’s one thing to learn about how cheese is made while tasting it, and it’s another to see the facilities and meet the cows as they wander in for a milking after a day in the shady forest. On Thursday, Grey Barn owner Eric Glasgow shared the entire process with us. Prior to tasting, however, we made a special trip into the forested portion of the farm to visit the pigs. Four sows had recently given birth, and we had the rare delight of spending a few moments observing wiggling week-old piglets.
When we returned to the barn, a massive cheese board awaited us. We savored the final portion of the season’s Riprap, enjoyed classic Prufrock, and tasted three stages of Eidolon; from an intriguingly bland week-old sliver to the refreshingly tangy and rich mature Eidolon. We then learned the importance of the shape and size of cheese molds, as the third Eidolon, while aged for the normal period, was thinner with a larger circumference, which caused the entire creamy center to age into a rich, brie-like lava flow. It tasted incredible.
As Wendy Harmon, an Island resident and participant in Thursday’s FFS, put it, “I’m treating myself today. I work too much, but today I get to have some fun.”
Protected from impending rain by a tent, with a view of the farm’s expansive fields — Belted Galloway cows amid wind tousled grasses — I couldn’t think of a more inspiring view for my first foray into plein air painting. I quickly learned the tenets of plein air, especially given the foreboding sky above us. Traeger was completely in his element; simultaneously painting, describing his process, and ensuring that his easel didn’t float off on the breese.
“Just dive in,” he encouraged. “I usually start off with a gray-tone wash, and I try and cover the canvas with paint,” he said. As the wash dries, he decides which portions of the landscape to include in his acrylic narrative. Thunder rumbles. “It could pour rain at any second,” Traeger continues. “I try to be painterly, because I want to get as much down as possible before anything changes. I can always use my creative license and add more detail later,” he says.
Traeger is the truest type of artist; he sees beauty in everything, and understands intuitively how to translate it onto a canvas. At 16, Traeger was an avid baseball player who began painting to impress a girl. After going on to play Division One baseball at University of Maine, Orono, he came to the Vineyard for a summer and realized, “I want to stay here and paint,” and that he did.
When the wind lifted and pushed his freshly painted canvas into the grass, he merely smiled and picked it up, saying, “I always welcome these experiences, because they add to the painting.” In this setting, he was an excellent teacher, explaining his creative process and roving between us with genuine appreciation for each of our own interpretations and styles.
“How do you create depth in your work?” Caren Sacks asked.
“It’s a combination of perspective and value changes. The brighter stuff comes forward and the darker stuff sets back.”
At this point, Traeger had a gallery-worthy piece on his easel, my companions were well on their way, and I realized I had yet to start.
The seasoned painters in the group had no problem mixing colors and bringing the fields before us onto their canvases, completely unfazed by the changing skies and impending storm. I laughed to myself as I muddled blue with white and created a blue sky while standing beneath a gray one. It was fun and empowering to know that my little canvas would hold any face I gave it. With a little extra encouragement, I finally shook my inhibition and found my stride.
As I left, the rain arrived. Even so, Traeger’s words resonated with me; all I wanted to do was stay and paint.
The next “Painting on Island Farms” classes are August 10 and 31. For more information on Farm. Field. Sea.: farmfieldsea.com.
For more information on Traeger di Pietro: traegerdipietro.com. Traeger’s art is currently on display at the North Water Gallery and Field Gallery!
For more information on the Grey Barn: thegreybarnandfarm.com.