The Art of Plein Air


A year ago today I left for Italy on a 3 week trip to explore the art and culture of this amazing country. Feeling the intensity of light, the sensuous smells and fragility of this ancient landscape made me glad I was a painter.

Most of my large format paintings are done in the studio. But the richness of the essence of that painting originates out in the environment, or painting “en plein air”. Occasionally I pack up my travel paints, a few brushes and several small canvases and head for a field somewhere. There, I choose what excites me, where the light will travel, where the color resides. I paint for hours at a time in total relaxation, oblivious to the fact whether or not my painting will succeed. What I learn out in nature is my source of inspiration. I can truly see the color of the sky fading from an intense blue to a soft lavender as it meets the chartreuse horizon of spring.

If you’ve never painted outside, or haven’t done so in years, pack up your paints and your senses and do it today.

A Testimonial for My New Book

My latest creation has truly come from the studio, after nearly 40 years of working as a graphic designer, photographer and painter. My new book, “Points of Inspiration: An Artist’s Journey with Painting and Photography” has just been published through my design firm, Brook Design Group, in 2015. A labor of love for the past 2 years, this book has been on my bucket list to do, and well, it’s now miraculously available in stores! From the Nevada Museum of Art and the Oakland Museum bookstores, to Dakota Art Stores in Washington, to all of the wonderful stores in my own home town of Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. (Oh yes, and on my website.)

Point of Inspiration - Cover

The most wonderful part of publishing this book has been receiving reviews from readers, and especially from long-time friends. I hope you will enjoy reading the blog post from a dear friend and wonderful author, Eleanor Vincent. It tells the story of our connection and how the book is viewed from her eyes. I am truly honored.


When a Painting Sells

People often ask me when I sell a painting, is it hard to let go? With the creative process being so personal, how can you avoid feeling that you have given a part of yourself away? How can you not feel loss of some sort, almost as if giving a child away?


I must admit, I do feel spoiled, as I have gotten to know and become friends with a lot of my collectors. I have the opportunity to see my paintings in their home on occasion, and perhaps even share a glass of wine upon its delivery. I get to meet their friends who also admire the painting, and meet family who sit at table with the painting joining them in the dining room each evening. I meet complete strangers who see my paintings on home tours, and form a deeper relationship with friends I have known for years—all through my art.

The recent sale of the painting above has a sweet story. It sold to a friend of a friend, completely online, over 3,000 miles away, without her ever seeing the original. Through many phone conversations with this collector, the relationship was formed, and her connection to my art became apparent. She told me that after looking for over 5 years for that special painting for her living room, and searching for one that really resonated with her, she finally found “In My Garden” (above). When initially describing to me what the ideal painting would be, I immediately thought of the painting above. After showing her several other images, she fell in love with this piece.

What I have learned, is that when I paint, I definitely paint to please myself, but in a bigger picture, it really isn’t about me, it is about the person in whose home it will reside. It is about them waking up to it in the morning, and living with it in their daily lives. It is about their dream, their connection to it.

So when a painting sells, my mission is complete. I have already let go of it the moment I created it and then again when it transfers over to its rightly owner—the person for whom the painting was created.

A Painting as an Altar?

After just completing this triptych (and after painting over 10 triptychs in my career), I just read in Wikipedia that the origin of a triptych is from early Christianity, where the large 3 paneled artworks would be displayed as part of an altar.

Interlude | 30 inch x 78 inch triptych | acrylic on canvas
Interlude | 30 inch x 78 inch triptych | acrylic on canvas

This was perfect, I thought. What could be more ceremonious than a painting? What could settle the mind, focus your attention and create a sacred haven more than an image of beauty? I don’t see myself as an organized religion-type of person, but I certainly feel my spiritual connection to the world when I paint. Maybe that’s why painting triptychs has always been a love of mine.

When I paint, I work in layers of color, so with three panels, I do many under paintings spread across the 3 panels, adding layer after layer. Color continuity as well as variation is key when working from panel to panel. A branch might need to cross over to the next panel, the color of water not only needs to be consistent when crossing over, but needs to vary in the overall painting where the whole is as important as the technique. The continuous painting spreads from one panel to the next, playing games with the eye and allowing you to see each panel as a separate painting, and then the 3 sections all as one painting.

According to Wikipedia, triptychs were seen in early Byzantine churches, where gold leaf was used prolifically. Surprisingly, before reading this, I had already added touches of gold throughout this painting. Amen.

This painting called “Interlude”, is 26 inches by 78 inches acrylic on canvas. I hesitate to say what I see in it, as sometimes with a more abstract painting, people see different things. I prefer to leave it open for interpretation. I’m curious…what do you see?

Setting the Stage for Art


I just got a call from a client who is looking for a painting for a blank wall that she has. A blank wall? An artist’s dream come true! So what are the considerations in purchasing artwork?


First, and above all, the painting has to resonate with you. It should move you, excite you, calm you, in whatever form, it should inspire a part of your daily life. When you relax in an easy chair across the room, or kick back at your office desk, it should bring you some sort of connection, that says, all is o.k. in this busy life we live in, and should bring you pure enjoyment for years to come.

So once you have decided on the art you love, how can you make it integrate with the place that it will hang? Paint colors these days are about as luxurious as you can get. From the rich, suede type of finishes of Ralph Lauren paints to the inexpensive yet inspiring colors from the Martha Stewart line, the right color can absolutely make a painting come alive. Oftentimes, only painting the one wall the art will hang on, in a provocative highlighting color, can be as much a statement as the art.

Through my many years of selling art, I frequently find myself consulting with my collectors about styling the room where the art will be hung. From wall colors, to furniture placement, to hanging groupings of art, I find as much fun in the staging as anything. (The above photo is from a beautiful home in which I sold 11 paintings and was hired to stage and hang as well!). First rule of thumb? De-clutter! Remove any excess knickknacks and wall art that would be a distraction to the featured piece. (Family photos are for a credenza, not a featured wall.) If you really want to highlight your original art investment, remove all clutter from the surrounding areas as well like coffee tables, bookcases and mantels. Just like people, art needs room to breathe!

In the end, we buy art for many reasons: we love the colors, we are entranced with the style of painting, we resonate with the subject matter. The size can either be perfect, or we can commission a specific size from an artist. All are our own personal choices. (And with a little bit of Ralph Lauren…!)

Recycled, Reclaimed, Reused Paintings!

If you’ve ever wanted to explore a more abstract way of painting, my next workshop called “Recycle Your Mind” is a fun one. Working with found collage materials in combination with painting, this workshop helps cut you loose to explore more abstract concepts. (Hint: it’s not your mother’s scrapbooking class!)

Evolution | 40 inch x 30 inch mixed media on 4 inch maple box
Evolution | 40 inch x 30 inch mixed media on 4 inch maple box

My fascination with using found materials in my art goes back to kindergarten, when I used moss, rocks and straw to create sculptures in my back yard. I then advanced to using burlap and other fabric scraps from my mother’s sewing basket, incorporating them into large paintings in high school. Today, my pack-rat mind scrounges for anything that is interesting in color, shape and texture (or anything that can be manipulated into something else).

The photo above is a close up of one of my paintings that uses cheesecloth, magazine scrap, Chinese gold leafed paper and block prints from my collection of wood type. My motto? You never know how or when you can reuse something, so save it! (The one quality Robert has trouble with about me, especially when our storage areas become stuffed with “potential art projects”.)

Sustainable art? Recycled art? Reclaimed art? All very hip right now, and part of my life for over 50 years. My response? Of course!

Workshop details: Saturday, April 6, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., downtown Nevada City. $115, students to supply their own collage materials and paints. For materials list or to reserve a spot, go to

In Love with the Art of Gregory Kondos

When I first arrived in California in 1975, and drove into the Sacramento valley and saw the patchwork vistas of iridescent green agricultural fields and intense blue skies, I knew I wasn’t in Connecticut anymore. As a painter, I wanted to become part of the wonder of California. And part of my introduction was becoming familiar with the art of Gregory Kondos.


My affinity for Kondos’ work is simple. Simple in its simplicity. Abstractly painted trees and possibly a building, reflecting in the still blue Delta waters, topped off with a halo of a luxurious “Kondos blue” sky above is all one ever needs to get lost in the essence of California. And the essence of Kondos.

In his show, “A Touch of Blue”, Kondos chronicles that he studied the work of Cezanne, yet remarks “I wanted to make it my own”.  I love that. When you step back and take in these large canvases that are striking in their elegant design, bold yet subtle in the thickly applied oil color palette, and evocative of a man in love with his environment, you see that Gregory Kondos has definitely “made it his own”.

If  you want to see what California art is all about, go see the current show at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, “A Touch of Blue”, Landscapes by Gregory Kondos, February 24 – May 19, 2013.

Art in Every Day

Sometimes we wait for art to appear in our lives. On a wall, in a gallery, in someone else’s home. To me it appears daily. Today it appeared in this beautiful bowl that I purchased at a fund raiser for our local homeless shelter, Hospitality House. Brilliant tangerine orange and a soft celadon blue…give me that in a painting and I’m happy. Give it to me in what sits on my table in daily life, and I’m complete.


Making art a part of our daily lives is so important. From the wine glasses we choose for dinner, to the table setting and candlelight, to the color of our food, art is all around us. When we pay attention to having beauty surround us every day, whether it is on a wall, or on the table, we not only create gratitude in our hearts, but also joy in our daily lives.

Learning to Unlearn

Remember when you first painted as a child how you had fun experimenting? You experimented with colors you liked, things you could use as a brush (like your dog’s tail), and how a crayon could take on a life of its own. We knew exactly what to do without even being taught.


And then we grew up. Then we were told that our drawings needed refinement, our colors needed to be more harmonious, all while noticing that the art done by the kid sitting next to us was much better than ours. That’s when we gave up. We became timid about choosing the right color, and became scared to draw something, anything, that wasn’t perfect. The joy that once appeared as a splash of brushstrokes with poster paints suddenly disappeared into a dark corner, never to be seen again.

The biggest fear I find that most of my students have when taking my painting workshops, is that they are afraid to start. They are afraid they will fail, even before they start.

We all need to warm up, whether it is in exercising or painting. We need to loosen up and remove the intimidation of wondering if we will succeed.

In teaching how to work quickly with several 10-15 minute painting warm-up exercises (see above photo), I find it helps break the ice of worries, and encourages play and spontaneity. Oftentimes, a study done as a warm-up is the prelude to a larger painting. Or sometimes, the time-restricted painting is actually perfect just as it is. Imperfections and all.

Sometimes You Just Need to Step Back

In preparing for an upcoming show in March, I’ve been burning the night oil in the new studio. With more room to back up and view my work in process, more room to experiment on several projects at a time, I can’t wait to start each day.

LeeAnn Brook Fine Art

The process of painting is quite an evolution, as the students in my workshops fully realize at some point. Each new painting builds on another. Each time we learn, that knowledge comes forth in layers of colors, layers of new directions. The very beginning of a painting is often mysterious. Where will it go? Will it accomplish what I want it to accomplish? Or maybe it will be set aside to rest against the wall in a corner, put to bed to work on another time.

So how does a painting begin? Where does the inspiration come from, how is it translated to canvas? My paintings begin in my mind, but often are a reflection of something a while back that caught my eye…the reflection on a pond, the color after a rain, the infraction of light on a tree. Starting with shooting a photo to record the memory, it may sit untouched for several years. Then one day it starts.

I let my intuition guide me as to what colors I will use. I let unplanned drips, scrapes and meanderings with the brush tell me where the painting will go. It will ofter start like this:


The inspiration is there, but the key is 1. to not ruin what is there, 2. to maintain the feeling of the inspiration while forming the painting at the same time, and 3. to know when to stop. This is where the trust comes in.

Sometimes, I think I have a plan as to how I want to painting to come out. It rarely goes as planned. Decision making is based on years of experience in painting, but trusting that you really don’t know the outcome, takes even more wisdom. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  I didn’t know the exact outcome of the paintings below, but I knew when I was done and satisfied. Believing in following what you know and what you don’t know and letting the painting form on its own, can be as powerful a tool as any in the hand of a painter. Sometimes you just need the room to step back.