Oil Paintings


Classes & Workshops

Charles Woodbury with students, c. 1898

I teach studio classes, plein air (outdoor) workshops here and overseas, and private lessons.

Teaching Philosophy

Teaching is important to me on many levels, and I’ve been teaching something (poetry, non-fiction writing, art history, painting) continuously for some 30 years.

“Painting is a matter of impulse, it is a matter of getting out to nature and having some joy in registering it…..You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start. Good painting is an excitement, an aesthetic emotion – reasonable painting destroys emotion. Painters don’t reason, they do.”               –Hawthorne

I don’t pretend to be a straightforward teacher of traditional oil painting. I’m interested in sharing ideas, experimentation, spontaneity, feeling, and imagination. l want to inspire and encourage an emotional response, not just for painting but for all of life. The best way to learn to paint is to just keep doing it. Yet that also means cultivating your inner life and digging into the history of art, even as you discover your individual creative self – by making paintings, by just doing the work.

I believe in a direct, intuitive approach to art-making rooted as much in spontaneity as in the history and traditions of western art. However, my classes can seem erratic. I don’t have academic artistic training, so I teach what I know, which is more about how one goes about developing a personal practice than it is about acquiring the traditional skills of oil painting.

Artists are people on a public path of self-discovery. Technique is important, but so is having something to say. And we all have something to say – it’s just that too often we settle for someone else’s language. Actually, my teaching philosophy is simple: I want to help my students develop a personal voice as well as the essential formal techniques required to express it.

All of my classes include demonstrations and personal instruction as well as creative exercises designed to free up your brush and lay the foundation for intuitive, expressive painting that’s fun, full of feeling, and yours alone. I’m proud to say that many of my current and former students continue to pursue the craft, and many have gone on to sell their work and establish their own studios.

* * *

“There  isn’t enough language to express how much this workshop has affected my art technically and imaginatively…. you have opened up an entirely novel approach for me through your plein air excursions and demos. I will be taking your class next year and thereafter.”

  – Anne Garton, “Beyond Plein Air” class & workshop, Truro MA

“I’ve sold every single painting I did that week.”

– Bill Reedy, White Mountains workshop (AMC Crawford Notch)

“Thank you for opening our eyes to a new (for us) way of seeing things. This was just the spark I needed to change direction in how I put paint on canvas!”

  – Bill Edwards, Art of Seeing workshop, Ogunquit, ME

“I’ve sold almost every one of the paintings I did in your class. One of them was the first one I sold at my next show.”

 – Paula Furlong, Contemporary Oil Painting masterclass, Hollis, NH

To reserve a spot or if you have questions, email me at CHRIS(AT)CHRISTOPHERVOLPE.COM or call (603) 770-3058.


The Poetic Landscape

Ongoing Studio Classes

Exeter, NH ~ Every other Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. $40/class

Lowell, MA ~ Every Tuesday, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. $40/class

Contact me to be added to the studio class “signup genius” email invitation list.

A structured paint along perhaps best describes how this class operates as we explore contemporary landscape painting in oils. Students leave every class with a finished work.

Generally there’s a demo and individual attention at the easel. Often we begin by talking about how a particular contemporary or historical painter has responded to the visible world and what we can take from them. We explore various painters’ styles, techniques, or approach to subject matter by painting something similar. We don’t copy the painting; instead we aim to create an original work directly influenced by the artist in question. It’s a great way to try on a variety of styles and techniques to see what fits you best.

If you’d like to come, there are no requirements except an open mind and the basic gear (there’s a materials list at the bottom of this page). Just RSVP to these signup invitations, which you’ll receive before each every-other-week class.

Our classroom, The Word Barn, 66 Newfields Rd. in Exeter, NH

Each week is something different. The goal is to enrich your tool kit, advance your skill and knowledge, and help you make strides in developing your own particular style and subject matter.

Shoot me an email to be included in the RSVP request for each class through an email sign-up that goes out a few days before.


Working in Series

Concord Art Association, Concord, MA

June 10 – June 14, 2019

Discover how working in a series can clarify your artistic voice and deepen your creative practice.  Home in on a personally meaningful theme during class and move quickly into developing exciting visual ideas and new directions.  Starting with an initial artwork or image, you will create several compositions combining principles of design with intuition and experimentation.  Any medium is acceptable, be it painting, drawing, textile art, quilting, even music.  You’ll learn written and creative exercises designed to bypass self-doubt and spark new possibilities.  Note that technique will not be taught; key principles of design and composition will be shared, but this is primarily about finding yourself as a creative individual and turning that into art that “works” for you and for an audience.  Level: advanced-beginner to advanced.  $450 members. $500 members, Register here.

Herring Cove Surf, 2017

Truro, Cape Cod

Beyond Plein Air

July 15-19, 2019

Much instruction in plein air painting leaves out the best reason to paint at all: exploring the interaction of perception and personal truth. This workshop goes beyond imitating nature to use the objective world as a springboard for expressive design, color, and paint. Over three days painting outdoors followed by two days painting larger work (36” x 36,” or larger) in the studio, we will develop exercises, processes, and disciplines to open  new avenues for original work infused with poetry, feeling, and a sense of play. This class functions well for a wide variety of skill levels, but some previous plein air painting experience may be helpful.

Our goal is to develop exercises, processes, and disciplines that will align your creative process with your subjective responses to nature and to life and ultimately, to infuse your work with poetry, feeling, and a sense of play.  This class offers a chance to try some bold, adventurous painting and open new avenues for original work.

This class will fill and wait list. More info and to register here.


Star Island, Isles of Shoals

Painting the Shoals

Saturday August 30, 2019

Join me on what’s become an annual pilgrimage to a place locked in time, a rocky, scruffy, and lightly populated island of antique weather-beaten buildings on the ocean, an austere haven poised between civilization and oblivion.

Whether you are already (or not YET!) passionate about the Isles of Shoals, join this excursion on a chartered ferry (the “Uncle Oscar”) for on-site explorations, painting demonstrations and instruction.

For me, the isles inspire contemplation of our place in nature. My paintings here are always about the dissolution of matter into “spirit” in the form of light, air, stone. I go for rocky coasts, “the basins hollowed out of granite and flint,” as a travel writer put it in 1875, “and the utter wantonness in which the sea has pitched about the fragments it has wrested from the solid rock, the futility of words in which to express this confusion.” Nathanial Hawthorne wrote that, taking in the sea and stone here, “it seems as if some of the massive materials of the world remained superfluous after the Creator had finished, and were carelessly thrown down here, where the millionth part of them emerge from the sea, and in the course of thousands of years have become partially bestrewn with a little soil.” There are many spots of quiet, timeless beauty as well.

$100/Participants responsible for $34 roundtrip ferry ride, 9 a.m. – late afternoon/early evening. On-site day parking at the ferry dock is $5.

There is a restaurant at the Oceanic hotel (and, if you hit it just right, lobster rolls sell for $16) but please feel free to pack lunch and a drink. Meals in the hotel’s family-style dining hall are available for a fee payable at the front desk but must be reserved ahead of time. Bathrooms are available on the island. Our boat, the Uncle Oscar, departs from Rye harbor at 9:30 am. Our sunset return trip departs from the island at at 7:25 p.m., to be back in Rye at 8. All-day parking in the Rye Harbor marina lot is an additional $5 (cash only).

This class filled last year. Email me your interest asap.

2017 Star Island workshop


Crawford Notch, White Mountains, NH

Three-Day Plein air, Team-taught Workshop (Chris Volpe, Alastair Dacey and Todd Bonita)

 AMC Highland Center Lodge, Crawford Notch, Bretton Woods, NH

 All inclusive package: Workshop, Lodging and meals; $388 AMC Members / $422 Non-members. (Limit 12)
Contact Nancy at the AMC to register (603) 466 – 2727
Supply list, and more in “workshops” drop down menu
CLICK HERE for Full listing, Supply list and more.


Bennington College, Vermont

North Country Studio Workshops

Finding Your Work: Creating in Series

January 28 – February 1, 2020

This five-day workshop is designed to equip artists with tools to build a body of personally meaningful work marked by originality, feeling, and a unifying conceptual basis. Through interactive, generative, and creative exercises, artists will work in series in a creative practice fulfilling in itself yet engaged with the past and present of art and life at large. Though the instructor is using oils, artists are encouraged to work in the medium of their choice. Register through the North Country Studio Workshop at http://ncsw.org.


This one’s been on the table FOREVER:



This *may* FINALLY happen in 2020! Who knows? I just leave this description here and keep changing the date.

Spend an extended week reveling in Italy, enjoying the sensual delights of Tuscany. Capture your experiences in paintings created in the shade of centuries’ old hills of olive groves and timeless medieval villages.

Contact me if you’re interested in joining us!


Additional workshops in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Iceland, Spain, and the Amalfi Coast  have been bandied about.

Email me with your interest!



Private instruction, either in your home or at my Lowell studio, is available. The standard rate is $100 per three-hour session. In these sessions (evening or daytime) I work individually with a painter of any experience level, total beginner to working artist, and develop a series of classes tailored to the individual student’s needs and goals.

6"x8," oil on panel SOLD

Bowl, 6″x8,” 2013.


Please contact me (chris(at)christophervolpe.com) if you’re interested in taking a class!


Materials & Equipment


  • Bring at least one medium-sized  (8×10 to 12×16) panel or canvas for each studio or plain-air session.
  • Have a few itty bitty (5×7 or 6×8) panels or something handy for possible warm-ups and color sketches.

I use cheap canvas and canvas panels for plein air work and either “gallery wrapped” canvas or linen for larger paintings in the studio. I’ve been known to make my own linen panels by mounting Claussen’s #13 triple oil-primed Belgian linen to birch or maple plywood panels that I cut to size.

Brushes & Knives

  • I primarily paint with a large chip brushes (cheap, disposable hardware store bristle brushes), filberts,  and a painting knife, but I do keep many brushes on hand for special uses. When doing large work, I use house paint brushes. Bring your favorite brushes AND something large (#10) maybe a large filbert or a flat, either synthetic or bristle, AND something even larger, like a 2-3″ chip or house painting brush. Just make sure your bristles are stiff, not soft.
  • You need a palette knife for mixing paint. I often use a combination of brush and knife in my work. Most of my students end up getting a palette knife like the one I use, with a long, rectangular blade that’s squared off at the end, as shown below. I often paint with my knife as well as mix with it, so if you’re interested in trying out my style, you’ll want to get this kind of knife.

square tip palette knife


My basic palette:

  • Titanium White (*large tube*)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (red)
  • Cadmium Yellow Light (for occasional use SPARINGLY!)
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Burnt Umber (though we often make our own browns)
  • Yellow Ochre
    • Optional/occasional:
    • Burnt Sienna (or Transparent Iron Oxide Red)
    • Prussian (or Phthalo) Blue
    • Viridian (or Phthalo Green)

Additional colors occasionally added in, not essential but nice to have in your kit: Caput Mortuum (Old Holland, aka Mars Violet), King’s Blue (Old Holland, a wonderful blue perfect for skies and creating cool grays), Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Cadmium Red, Lemon Yellow (or Cad Yellow Light), Gold Ochre, Phthalo Green, and Ivory Black. Zinc white which is semi-transparent to Titanium’s opaque, can be used to great advantage in layering and scumbling to create atmospheric effects, but Titanium’s my daily go-to white.

I paint mostly directly and in layers wet on wet, and often use no medium at all, so if you’re a beginner don’t worry about it. As you figure out what kind of painter you are, you’ll discover the uses of mediums to create different effects in different kinds of work. I do enjoy using straight “stand” (thickened) linseed oil or pure linseed oil; the former thickens the paint while improving flow and adding gloss. My true favorite medium (aka “honey”) is a mixture of about 70% Stand Oil and 30% Linseed Oil, sometimes with a little Turp/Odorless Mineral Spirits, which I also use for cleanup.

If I need my painting to dry quickly (oils without medium take 3-5 days to dry to the touch), I use Winsor & Newton’s “Liquin” or Gamblin’s “Galkyd,” a viscous drying medium that speeds up the drying time and also imparts a mild gloss to the finished painting.

Other Essentials

  • Palette – a surface (I use and recommend a wooden palette) for mixing your oil colors
  • Paper Towels/Rags (Trust me, get the blue “shop towels” at a hardware store. They’re more absorbent, more durable, and often cheaper too).
  • Cleaning Solvent: I use Mona Lisa Odorless Mineral Spirits in the studio and pure, artist-grade turpentine when I’m working outside. If you want a completely solvent-free system, try plant-based oils (walnut oil, linseed or cooking-grade safflower oil) for cleaning brushes.
  • Palette knife, for mixing and applying paint (I often paint with a square-tipped palette or “painting knife” like this)(and see above). I like the flexibility of the one made by Loew-Cornell and the one with the blue rubber handle sold by Blick online.
  • Wooden folding French easel (search online for “French easel”). I use a half pochade with backpack straps. You can also use a paintbox mounted on a tripod, such as the  Guerrilla Painter or OpenBox M boxes. I also have two student-grade easels and two plein air pochades available for student use.
  • B pencil or charcoal and sketchbook (very optional – I don’t usually use them but they can be nice to have handy).
  • Old clothes! Oils can be messy, and if you paint like I do, you WILL end up with paint on your clothes and on you!

Additional Gear for Outdoor Painting

  • Hat with brim
  • Comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers
  • Layered Clothing
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellant
  • Water Bottle
  • Something to carry home wet paintings in (pizza boxes work well but you can also buy “wet paint carriers” that are nice)
  • Small White Umbrella (these are awesome for keeping out of direct sun, but they can be cumbersome and I confess I don’t use one, though I should)


I have an academic background as a writer and art history instructor, and I write about art for websites, scholarly journals, exhibition catalogues, and print magazines like Art New England and American Art Review. In addition, I enjoy giving public lectures and presentations on the history of art. Lecturing and teaching helps me make my background in art history, aesthetics, and literature converge with life – it feels like I’m putting art history and ideas into practice.

Here you can download free PDF versions of some of the slide shows I use in my presentations to art associations, libraries, historical societies, and students.


Picturing the Shoals: 150 Years of Artistic Fascination


Borderlands preso

Borderlands: In Search of Martin Johnson Heade’s Newburyport Meadows


plein air painting in Maine and Southern NH

From the Mountains to the Sea: The History of Plein Air Painting in NH and Maine


Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 4.00.26 PM

The Seeing of the Thing: The Art and Teaching of Charles Woodbury and the Original Ogunquit Art Colony

contact me if you’d like me to give a presentation to your group