Lisa Blackshear–the Interior Landscape

Biltmore House Misty MorningBlack Eyed Susans Asheville Botanical Gardens

Growing up in Minnesota, I was attracted to the beauty of the landscape, possibly because a childhood illness had left me deaf in one ear. Mother of pearl sky over a frozen lake, or sunlight filtering through autumn leaves, spoke to me with a larger meaning.

I found expression first as an illustrator for the college newspaper. Then after graduation and moving to New York City, newspaper, newsweekly, and magazine illustration provided an outlet for my creativity.

At first I used watercolor, scratchboard, and airbrush, But with transparent media I couldn’t make the changes I needed. For me part of working with an image is to refine the image, sometime making huge changes.

I got into computer illustration, where I could make limitless changes and the results still maintained a fresh appearance. This business of freshness is interesting. My first sketch was usually better, even with multiple corrections, than the final copy of it, which often had a stiff look, formal, with all the life and spontaneity removed. So I was happy that with a computer I could shape and mold a drawing indefinitely to get exactly what I wanted.

When my husband, son and I moved to North Carolina I finally had the opportunity to pursue fine art. I needed to learn to paint with oils where I hoped, with an opaque medium, to be able to really manipulate the image. I wrote a grant for the Asheville Urban Landscape Project to bring professional and emerging artists together to paint “en plein air”.

I read everything I could find about oil painting. I first followed the philosophy of the Cape Cod School (Lois Griffel) where you use lots of colors, a palette knife, and paint on Masonite. My paintings were thick and screamingly bright, but I longed for the realism I saw in other artist’s work.

Next I followed the advice of Kevin Macpherson and Mitchell Albala to limit my palette and paint a monochrome underpainting. I hoped that if I got the value right, the color would be more realistic. My value improved, but the lack of vibrancy from using such a limited palette was galling. I noted some people whose work I followed on Facebook like Cynthia Rosen Malter and Danny Griego were using a red underpainting and I began to do the same, using Alizarine Crimson.

When I approach the subject, I first take a picture, frequently using the panorama setting on my phone. I manipulate the photo, making it monochrome, which helps me to see the drama of value, and cropping it, which brings up a grid which helps me place the composition on my canvas. My next step is to make some thumb nail sketches. A strong composition really helps to make a successful painting. Most of my compositions are like a yin-yang symbol. I will also say to myself a phrase, that describes the drama I’m trying to capture, like “the fog is lifting over the mountains.”

Finally, I do the Alizarin Crimson value underpainting. I thin my paint with Gamsol and paint in big swaths with a paper towel. While this dries I lay out the rest of my palette. For painting on location I still favor Kevin Macpherson’s limited palette. Cadmium Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, and Pthalo Green. But to this I’ve added Cadmium Orange, inspired by Billyo O’Donnell’s amazing paintings.

My primary concern, on the second layer, is to keep the family of the lights and the family of the darks separate and distinct–everything hit by sunlight should be a warm color and everything in the shade cool. I think of color shapes as jigsaw puzzle pieces. I use small brushes and try to keep each brushstroke thick and deliberate, like a tapestry, allowing the bright underpainting to sparkle through.

I rely on memory as well as my observation to paint. Remembering, if the light is changing, which lighting effect I want to capture. I bring the attitude of an illustrator, where you create images from your imagination to create meaning, to the attitude of a plein air painter, where the main goal is to capture true color.

I now work on paintings further in the studio. I used to be afraid that I would paint the life out of a painting. But now I want more detail. I paint at a drawing table instead of an easel which makes it easer to be detailed, and I add these colors: Mauve, Cadmium Red Light, Windsor Orange, Indian Yellow, Naples Yellow, and Portland Gray Medium.

What direction am I going in? I am inspired by Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought, and I am working on a series that expresses the inner drama of emotions through the landscapes of Western North Carolina.

For more information contact me at