Tallahassee Plein Air Workshop

Plein Air Painting Workshop at the Old Willis Dairy

Where: Old Willis Dairy at 1609 Centerville Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32308

When: Oct 6-8th

Cost: Advance Registration $325 ($375 after Sept. 15th) Registration Includes lunch, refreshments, and toast of sparkling during afternoon discussions.

Feel free to contact me at ronthomsonart@gmail.com or call me at 251-586-2254

For the first time ever, the Old Willis Dairy will open its doors to painters in a collaboration with award winning artist and teacher, Ron Thomson. Join him for a rare opportunity to paint a landmark of our heritage in the picturesque heart of Tallahassee. His works are found in prestigious regional and national collections.You will have the opportunity to learn his strategies to create paintings with a compelling sense of depth, space and light “en plein air.” This means “to paint outside to capture the effects of sunlight and different times of day on a subject.”

The Old Willis Dairy was once one of Florida’s top independent dairys on the outskirts of Tallahassee and its restoration is a conscious labor of love to preserve the fabric of our heritage.The campus of structures echoes the North Florida Farmhouse Style of the beautifully restored original farmhouse.

Native and traditional ornamental plantings, old oaks and vegetable gardens provide the picture perfect back drop to inspire the artist‘s heart, mind and brush. Frank Willis’ interest in Monet and his visit to his gardens in Giverny provided energy and inspiration for the design of the Old Willis Dairy gardens.

Each day will include painting demonstration and one on one instruction. Generous porches will provide shelter from

inclement weather should nature provide a dramatic change of conditions to paint. Lunches will be themed to appeal to the appetites and palettes with old school Florida comfort food and pastoral French cuisine for our luncheons on the grass over the course of the workshop.


Advance Registration $325 ($375 after Sept. 15th) Registration Includes lunch, refreshments, and toast of sparkling during afternoon discussion Location: Old Willis Dairy at 1609 Centerville Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32308 Contact Ron Thomson for registration, details and supply list ronthomsonart@gmail.com or call (251) 586-2254

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old willis dairy final

Nature in the Raw

My return to the panhandle of Florida, where I grew up and lived until the age of 25, has been a time of particular challenge for me and also reassertion. I am now approaching 47. I have spent a great deal of energy recently in primitive camping in an “Eno” hammock in some of the most spectacular natural settings here in Florida. Depicted here are paintings depicting the Wacissa River and the unsurpassed pristine barrier Island St. Vincent Island. These natural places offer a glimpse of nature “unimproved” by man. Spending much time in these these environments presents a challenge to me. I am more accustomed to quick day trips followed by a welcome return to air conditioning and hot meals, but perhaps it is best that these areas are difficult for us overstay our welcome.


Wacissa at Dusk in June 24″x18″ oil on Linen



Edge of Paradise, 24″x30″ oil on Linen

Sun, Exit Stage Left

The most fleeting of moments are often the most beautiful. The setting sun found a gap in the clouds and the bare branches suddenly blazed in gilt gold and silver. The afternoon, damp and chilly moments before, set fire to my senses as my camera captured my elusive quarry. Nature’s orchestra left my ears ringing with the drama of the day’s finale. Moments later the clouds closed  and  the rotation of our earth drew the curtains on a mid-winter day. For this and more, I am filled with gratitude.


Spoonbill Madness

Not really supposed to get Roseate Spoonbills in Tallahassee Florida, but I couldn’t help but notice the pink spots in the lakes of Kilearn neat Bradfordville Road. I guess the weather has been a bit confusing to them as well! The were very accommodating subjects. I would also like to give thanks to the supporting cast of snowy egrets:)IMG_1394



Tales from a Commissioned Artist IV: Gratitude

This painting was commissioned as a wedding present by a group of ladies who were friends of the bride. The ladies originally asked Jo Patton to paint the scene. She is a wonderful Fairhope artist. Her work has been an inspiration to me since I moved to Fairhope in 2003 and her work changed my approach to painting. When I look at Jo’s paintings, I get the sense that she is allowing herself to have more fun than most artists would ever condone.

Jo referred the ladies to me and I painted this little scene. If I were to list some things I am thankful for, that list might be Jo’s friendship, the times when paintings are created with ease, living in Fairhope, my amazing wife and awesome kids/young adults, painting for a living…… the list could go on.


A New Beginning, 14″x18″, oil on canvas

But not all commissions are so “fun”. There is a DARK side to these tales :@  Allow me to set the scene….

With a song in his heart, the unsuspecting artist raises his hand to knock on her door. The mansion looms overhead, magnificent and grand. But as his gaze questions the vacant and eye-like windows, a tiny shiver rises up his spine.  A sudden chill wind buffets his thin frame and the leaden sky rumbles. Perplexed, the artist knocks and waits. In due couse, the door opens. She greets our hero and bids him enter. The artist glances back at the driveway as cold drops collect on the still warm hood of his car, and enters………..

He was never seen again. His surviving wife and children sell his paintings and move uptown.

Yes, its almost Halloween and I couldn’t resist. But when entering into a commission agreement, there are some things to keep in mind.

What is the subject of the painting? Will the painting be from life, will you take photos or will they be supplied by the client. If so, catalogue the details and ask questions about what might have special significance.   Where is the painting to be hung? What size is needed for the spot and should the painting be horizontal or vertical?  Is the source photo clear, properly exposed and of adequate size?  Listen to the all the client’s requests and expectations, clarify questions you may have, and take notes! Ask yourself if you would have fun working on this project. If not, thank the client for the compliment of their consideration and let them know that you are not the right artist for the job. Refer them to an artist who may enjoy the job and wish them a beautiful day.

If you would enjoy the project, awesome! Give the client ONE price that includes your expenses. Don’t make it complicated and when you have agreement say this:  “I require half down before I start. How would you like to pay?” Smile and make eye contact.

Even with eyes open, not all commissions end in mutual satisfaction. In painting and in life, there are no mistakes, only experiences. But we can learn and grow from our experiences. Others may choose to see them as one more thing they should never try again, but that need not be us! We are brave and our lives begin at the end of our comfort zone!!! Go forth with zest and valor, and give thanks!

Tales from a commissioned artist: III

The Choice of Joy!

What is a portrait? Is it a faithful rendition of a sitter’s face, neck and a portion of the chest? Is it an image of how the subject wants to be seen by the world?…  Or is it a moment in a child’s life as they are asked to look at the camera and stop fidgeting?

My favorite portraits are paintings that express a moment in a subject’s life….. or better yet, a moment captured as a subject lives. Who are we?  How do we express ourselves? How do we move? In what space are we most comfortable?

This painting of Watt Key’s children can barely be called a portrait. One of the 3 children even has her face turned away from us! And yet I persist in calling it a portrait. The eldest daughter demonstrates a model’s instinct for drama as she glances over her shoulder. Her younger sister follows her lead and the boy-child plays the classic “catch me if you can” game with the waves.

They are expressing the joy of living and after 400+ photos and 2 hours I was lucky enough to snap this picture.  The children are fully engaged and without pretext. The warmth of the sun and the cool water combine with the cry of the gulls.  The children crash on the shore and flow back into the bay like the waves. The kids are supreme in their domain here. Capturing this moment is an epic moment in my experience as an artist. I am grateful I was allowed such casual candor in telling this story.

When doing commissions, I take my own photos. My trick is to make the photo session as relaxed and playful as possible and to create or facilitate interaction between the subject and their surroundings.  There are many magnificent portraits depicting the sitter gazing at the viewer and I would never suggest these paintings lack depth, exquisite beauty and drama.

I believe, however, that our greatest contribution to ourselves and others is our frequent expression of joy. So next time you are asked to do a portrait, what would it take to make your clients smile, laugh or cry with joy!


Portrait of Watt Key’s Children, 30″x40″, oil on canvas

Tales from a commissioned artist II

This is a painting of Cynthia and her daughter Erin dining in a plaza in Italy…. or is it?

I met with Cynthia and Craig to discuss a painting commission chosen from the many photos they took on their Italian vacation. It was especially memorable because their daughter was able to join them. After we went through the stack of photos and chose promising ones, we narrowed the choices to three views of a plaza in Florence…. one that mostly looks like the painting, and 2 others with details of cascading flowers, the far building and diners. I loved how the shadowed buildings to the right direct the eye to the sun drenched east-side of the plaza. It suddenly struck me that this painting could include Cynthia and Erin with the other diners.

We arranged for Erin to join us for an afternoon photo-shoot with her mom and a glass or two of wine. I seated them with patio furniture using the plaza photo as reference for lighting. The wine flowed as I shouted encouragements. “Be natural”, “Again, with feeling this time”, “Use your other smile”. Finally I had some shots to work with. I thanked them for being good sports and my wife drove me home:)

In painting the image, I had to compose multiple images together. The lighting of all the “detail” photos was consistently from the right and behind the subjects just like the main photo.

This is important. I choose to paint objects becouse the lighting on them is beautiful, I don’t make it up. You will be rewarded as you begin exploring the unfolding romance of light and  its star crossed lover, shadow.



“Italian Lunch” 30″x40″ oil on canvas

Tales from a commissioned artist:I “raison d’être”

This is going to be an ongoing series of stories or mere snippets about the commissions I have painted, the people I have painted them for, and the tales of the ensuing drama of painting and meeting a clients dreams, hopes and expectations. Many artists loath the process of  painting commissions for the “constriction” it places on the artistic process. But….

“what else is POSSIBLE:)”

What if we, “I am talking to you artists out there!”, saw a customer’s request as an opportunity to play with a subject matter in a different way than we would normally play with it. This is my mental trick I play on myself when painting a commission. I am given a “box” with particular things in it. What are the possibilities? What is  the clients reason for wanting this painting… a memory from childhood, a treasured moment? What is the emotion sought by the client? Love, peace, humor, nostalgia, pride? Is there a story? How does this extra information and point of view the client shares change how we might depict the subject?


This is, or was, Debbie’s Barn. It was nestled between her childhood home and the family’s fields. You may perceive that it has seen better days. If fact, it was to be demolished soon and she wanted something to remember it by. I got directions and permission and photographed it early one summer day. I painted it boldly and loosely. I added touches of orange for color balance and to hint that the barn was in the autumn of its life. I also invested a sense of play and joy. Knowing Debbie, that was a big part of her childhood and I can only imagine the adventures she had as a little girl growing up on a farm!


Debbie’s Barn, 24×30, oil on canvas

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