Glacier Art Academy

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Thank Goodness we’re back–and better than ever!

Nicholas Oberling and Jennifer Li have opened a new art school in order to pass on the great education we got from our teacher. Painting and drawing are great diciplines (like playing the piano) that cannot be learned in one or two weekend workshops. Classes are structured in six-week sessions that will cover a wide range of subjects. My goal is to provide the richest possible learning experience for every student, by providing exercises, explanations and individual advice.


Technical Difficulties

Our apologies for some technical difficulties with the Critnick site. Unexpected problems occurred when we updated our blog platform. We are working to restore Critnick’s full functionality. I hope you can see this beautiful landscape by Sanford Robinson Gifford.


Oregon Coast: Day 2

(Scroll down for Day 1 and previous posts)

On the second day of my painting trip to the Oregon coast, I got a tide chart and went to work with the intention of making it a banner day. After breakfast I hauled my gear across the wide sandy beach in front of the town of Cannon Beach. A huge rock the size of a small skyscraper jutted up from the surf zone, but I resisted the urge to paint it as I was here for sea paintings. Besides, in the misty morning light, the rock appeared mostly dark and featureless. My goal was to understand waves and how the morning sun affected their color.

By the time I finished the first study, it was late morning. A different color harmony occurred.

Oregon Coast Study 1

I was particularly interested in the whole life cycle of the wave. Interestingly the wave intensity fluctuated every few minutes. There would be a series of two or three large rollers that would take their time to rear up and curl in a beautiful symmetrical fashion. Just as I would turn my attention to that region of my painting and look out in anticipation, the sea would flatten out. Even though I was pretty quick in painting these studies, the movement of the sun and tide were forces to be reckoned with.

Oregon Coast Study 2


After a slice of delicious pizza, I was off to Indian Point Beach. Timed so that the tide wouldn’t strand me on the rocks, I got there an hour later, put all my supplies in my knapsack and headed out along the cobble-stone beach. The cliffs formed a wall with the beach and it was important that I keep an eye on the waves at certain points. I found an area with a few hundred boulders emerging from the receding surf. My third study of the day was a view of the breaking surf somewhat in the direction of the sun. I tried to contrast the turmoil of the breaking waves with the tide pool. Needless to say in these circumstances, I greatly reduced the complexity of the scene.


Oregon Coast Study 3


After painting this piece, the tide had gone down enough so that I could walk out among the smaller rocks. Here, I focused on a magnificent rock that caught the afternoon light. I loved how the emeralds in the sea complemented the ochers found in the rock. Seals occasionally barked in the surf and cormorants and scoters sliced through the water.

Oregon Coast Study 4


Tired as I was, I saw that the sun was fixing to set against the waves. My fifth and last piece was an attempt to capture the aura around the sun. I would’ve loved to linger, but the beach would’ve been treacherous going in the dark.

Oregon Coast Study 5



Oregon coast: Day 1

This 16x 20 was my first of the day. I tried to capture the sunlight as it raked across a very complicated surf pattern. I thought it came out pretty well, considering it was my first seascape done from life in about three years. Once you put in the work, some things will stick. Even though I paint pretty quickly, the movement of the sun and the falling tide were factors. In the two hours it took to paint this, rocks that were awash with waves became high and dry. The angle of the sunlight also changed so that it completely changed the color harmony.

Ecola Point 2

Ecola Point, Midafternoon
plein air painting by Nicholas Oberling
16″ x 20″ , oil on panel



After completing the first piece, I tried to clamber down to the exposed beach on Ecola Point, but found my path blocked by a cliff. I then decided to do another 16x 20 of the new position of the sun, which silhouetted the rocks and waves more. The pounding waves created a fine mist which veiled the sun. I felt I could be freer with this scene, and as always I edited out rocks and lowered the horizon line to make a better composition.

Ecola Point 1

Ecola Point, Late Afternoon
plein air painting by Nicholas Oberling
16″ x 20″ , oil on panel



Glacier Park Commissions Finished

Prince of Wales Commision for post

The Prince of Wales Hotel at Waterton Lake,
by Nicholas Oberling, oil on linen, 5′ x 7′

The two 5’ x 7’ landscapes I’ve been working on for the past four months have been framed and delivered. There were a few hiccups along the way, but everything in the end came together beautifully. A two week delay in the making of the frame was put to good use, allowing me more opportunity to do some last minute touchups, which made me feel more confident about the final effect. Two painter friends gave me their input (thanks Mark and Bob) and my student Vern gave it a thumbs up.

Wild Goose Island Commission for post

Wild Goose Island,
by Nicholas Oberling, oil on linen, 5′ x 7′


I’m going to Oregon to paint some seascapes. Will post those soon. Meanwhile, look at Google images of Frederick Judd Waugh, the best marine painter I know of. You can copy and paste this URL into your browser’s address bar:…0.0…1ac.1.f_xLdfNDnt0

Better yet, look at those images with Edward Elgar’s piece “Sea Pictures” playing in the background. You can link up to YouTube here for that. (You know that you can have two versions of your browser open at once, right? On IE, just right click on the clock in the lower right-hand corner of your screen and then select “cascade windows”.)


Landscape Critique: Storms Over Citadel


Hi Nick,

This is my newest piece that is on display the next couple months in the Hockaday Members show. This is the artist statement that is included with it to give you some background. It is 9”x12”

Storms over Citadel2 - Copy

“Storms over Citadel”, by James Corwin


Reminiscent of the late 19th century and Hudson River School, my landscapes are rich, exciting and romantic as they depict dramatic skies and light. The presence of the painting is sensational, emotional and fleeting. I incorporate an element of fleeting moments in time with light and atmosphere to make a painting alive. A painting is alive. In harmony it breathes with movement and dynamism.

As an artist with a passion for the romantic era, I have found it my exploration to reinvent the sensations produced during that era. I use the same processes and materials to build the glazes and luminous quality adherent to the 19th century. The landscapes I choose are familiar but the paintings are unique, original and recognizable.


I sent you a piece back in May to critique (“Last Light”). Again, I creating that mystery through strong contrasts in my lighting. Often, my camera is unable to pick up the subtle details that are lost in the ‘darkness’ of the picture. You will see this piece in the show and understand its true qualities. The light and luminous qualities are the focus and all other shapes become subsequent. I am curious to see what you have to say. Thanks for your help.

James C.

Hey James C,

The storm scene you posted shows the kind of art spirit that I understand and really appreciate. You are inventing, not “copying.” To me, this is what separates the artist from the hack.

The Hudson River painters were kindred spirits. They studied nature closely because they saw it as a direct manifestation of God’s creation. They were fascinated with all of nature’s moods, not just the high noon sunlight that you see done over and over in western American art shows and magazines. With the advent of this movement, rainbows, transient light and weather effects, violent storms, nocturnes and vivid sunsets were depicted on a scale never before seen. Many also paid close attention to flora and fauna specific to an area. They saw their fidelity to nature as a gateway to the sublime.

I’d like to share an invention of mine. Over the years my technique has improved because I have dedicated my life to the study of nature. Each year I paint, another veil of ignorance lifts and I get to see how much more there is out there that I miss.

Working from your imagination: a monochrome oil sketch by Nicholas Oberling based on a scene from “Moby Dick”


I’ve been out painting my favorite scenes—trees, water, and sky. Because of an early fall dry spell, the colors of the leaves haven’t been as intense as other years. But I like the understated variety of greens, reds and golds I’ve seen. Snow has fallen early this year, so my first winterscape has a lot of fall foliage in it.

Autumn Meadow, plein air painting in oil by Nicholas Oberling, 12″ x 18″

Red Barn along the River, plein air painting in oil by Nicholas Oberling 12″ x 18″

Somers Stage Road, plein air painting in oil by Nicholas Oberling 12″ x 18″

Fall on the Slough, plein air painting in oil by Nicholas Oberling 12″ x 18″

Winter on the Slough, plein air painting in oil by Nicholas Oberling 12″ x 18″

I’ve finished my large commissions. More on that later.

A Critique Request from Pakistan

Hi Nick,

I am a beginner and started about 4 months ago by downloading a number of books and trying to teach myself to draw and paint. I have no prior knowledge of art. I started with graphite, then ink, pastels, acrylic, watercolor and finally oils. Nothing compares to oil.

I was wondering if I could ask a favor and have you review some of my work in oil.

My problem is I can’t tell what is good and what is not (no aesthetic sense!) also I cant seem to capture the likeness of my subject. Its also really difficult for me to place everything in its proper perspective (angle, dimensions etc).  I also don’t know anyone who can critique my work so feedback from a highly talented artist like yourself would really help. I use a grid to draw the initial figure and then work with layers. I like to add gold and silver foil. These are my first ever portraits. ( I’ll send these to her soon, somehow I don’t think she’ll like them very much :,-(. :-) )

Once again thank you for the critique.

Kind regards Raza
mirrah4dream of you 1













Dear Raza,

Good for you to start painting with oils. As you’ve probably found, it’s lots of fun even if it isn’t easy to achieve the results you would like.

Let me try to help you by commenting on one of the examples you sent. You’ve painted a portrait based on a photograph. You’ve succeeded in recreating the skin tones from the photo and you’ve used a grid system to help you copy the shapes of the features. You have done a careful job, and your model will probably recognize herself when she sees your painting.

I feel that you have the potential to do more sophisticated work. If you are dissatisfied with your efforts so far, I would advise you to do three things:

First, I would recommend that you practice painting live people whenever possible. Copying a photograph will not train your eye properly – it will encourage you to see the human face as a pattern of flat shapes to be outlined and filled in instead of as subtle three dimensional forms.  You need to be able to look at your subject from all angles and memorize the anatomy of the head so that you can indicate modeling using brush strokes, value gradations, and color modulations.  For example, you can learn to make the far side of the face in your painting seem to be turning away as the cheek and chin curve around the head and out of sight. As it is, the cheek and chin seem a bit cut-out against the hair. Look how William-Adolphe Bouguereau manages a similar situation by using half tones, cooler color, and softened edges to imply a turning plane on the face in this portrait.


Second, you will be happier if you use a single directional light on your subject. It’s no accident that the advent of electric lights has coincided with a deterioration of artistic skills.  Did you ever try the art exercise where you draw a simple sphere with light falling on it? Usually you have the high-light, half-tones, shadow, reflected light, and the cast shadow.

Now imagine trying to do that exercise with two, three, or more different light sources. I’ve been in art classes where the instructor didn’t seem to recognize that painting a model illuminated by several light bulbs at different angles makes as little sense. Painting is all about creating an illusion and its success depends on convincing the human eye, which is used to recognizing certain conventions.  If you can, set your model up near a high north window. So long as you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun will never interfere with your neutral light from the “back” of the sky.


Third, you have chosen a beautiful model, but modern cosmetics can interfere with your ability to see what you’re looking at. I would suggest that you practice painting eyelids and lips without kohl and lipstick. What you want is to render the forms, not their color. For an example of what I mean, look at great marble sculpture, like perhaps one of Bernini’s portrait heads. In this example, you can see that there’s a mastery of the three-dimensional shapes that it’s worth trying to achieve in oil.


As always, spend plenty of time looking at the way the great masters solved some of the same issues we all deal with. Thank you for your question!


Art Materials for Back Country Painting

I apologize for the break in my posts. The siding on my house had to be finished and firewood laid in for the season.

I’ve wanted for some time to do a post on my back country art supplies. Most plein air artists, including me, are used to painting not far from their cars. Your car or truck is your rolling studio and is often equally cluttered with stuff. But what do you do when you need to paint far from a road?


Since it’s basically your easel, brushes, paints and panels that you need, let’s examine how each can be reduced in weight.

I choose to work with the Stanrite ( aluminum plein air easel, 300 series (because I’m tall). This lightweight three and a half pound easel is tough and has a wide stance, which is great in windy situations. It takes less than a minute to set up (unlike a French easel) and can be used for a multitude of canvas or panel sizes (unlike a pochade box).


A cardboard mailing tube with a bottom is the perfect container for brushes because if it’s long enough, it’ll protect the ends.


A separate brush-box is necessary for my delicate sable brushes. I carry a small amount of brush-cleaner and a tub to pour it into.

By far the most dramatic reduction of weight is achieved by not bringing tubes of oils into the field. I’ve made a palette-box with compartments to store all my blobs of colors. I hang this box on my easel with the lid open to make a mixing surface. There’s also a palette cup attached so that I don’t need to root around in my pack for one. This box is very light and durable, and the blobs of color stay useable for three or four days.


Lastly, my panels, which as always are archival rag paper glued to a flat surface. For most trips, one eighth inch thick MDF or Masonite has sufficed. When weight is really an issue, I’ve used door-skin and even foamcore. I glue paper to these surfaces with Miracle Muck art glue—applied with a small roller. Then I mixed up rabbit skin glue at 20:1 with water and applied two sealing coats over the paper. You can tint the rabbit skin and water glue mixture with dry pigments to suit your needs. I tint mine ocher or umber.


Carrying the wet pieces is possible by building a portable panel carrier.


The palette-box and the brushes fit into my backpack. I have a bag in which I put the brushes, brush-cleaner, medium jar, an extra tube of white, hand-cleaner and a roll of paper towels. My easel is attached to the outside of my pack, and the panel box I carry separately. There’s room left over for water, insect repellant, food and first-aid stuff. And a holster of bear spray at the hip, of course.







Working Large

Oberling painting of Waterton Lakes and the Prince of Wales Hotel

I’m doing a large landscape painting of Waterton Lakes and the Prince of Wales Hotel. Here’s the painting as it stands now, after a few more sessions.


I filmed the first session on a 5’ x 7’ commission.  I want to share the experience of working up in size from a sketch. No need for grids. Just did it the same way I would for a smaller piece. Click on the links below to watch the initial lay-in.

Oberling Waterton Demo 1

Waterton Demo 2

Waterton Demo 3