A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

Welcome to our “Day in the Life of …” series for Plein Air Today, in which we feature one of today’s master artists who are willing to share a play-by-play of what it’s like to be a professional plein air painter.

In this reveal, American artist, author, and educator Mark Shasha shows that there’s more to being an artist than you might think as he takes us through an average day.

His work has appeared in museums, galleries, and publications for 40 years. His paintings are found in public and private collections around the world, and millions have read his children’s books which he has written and illustrated. Mark is featured in the PaintTube.tv art workshops, “Shimmering Light” and “Painting the Golden Hour.” Enjoy! ~Cherie

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

10:00 am – I ease into my mornings. No hurry. Good coffee is the only urgent matter. My wife Danuta usually joins me for a chat. We share ideas about what we might like to do with the day. It’s warm so I’m on the porch.

The first thing after coffee is poured is to check the deadlines: painting drop-offs, applications for plein air events, art association dues, upcoming exhibitions, that sort of thing. I make notes about what might be worth announcing in my newsletter or through social media. Also mindful of where in the schedule I might visit with a friend or two.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha
(Photos by Danuta Shasha)

The list for today includes a visit from a framer, some research for a paint manufacturer, a beach study, and a delivery to The Rockport National Exhibition. Any project not pressing up against a deadline is put aside.

For example, tonight I hope to make some progress on a particular coastal scene in my studio. It would be great to get it finished before the holidays as it will be put aside for my solo exhibition next year in Marblehead.

11:00 am – Henry Karakula of PS Art Frames in Rhode Island arrived with my latest bunch of custom-made frames. He is a master craftsman and guilder and he supplies many New England painters. We are lucky to have him. He delivers personally and it’s always good to see him. The nature of his work gives him a keen sense of trends happening in the New England art market.

artist's life - framing
(Special thanks to Henry Karakula for permission to include him here)

11:30 am – After Henry left I poured more coffee and headed upstairs. I built my studio 20 years ago on the 3rd floor of my house, so I’m only a few steps from my workspace.

Last week I was asked by Michael Harding Paints to suggest a small selection of colors most useful for painting a seascape. It’s a fun challenge and I’m eager to give it a try.

Choosing a limited palette to paint skies

Of course, I have hundreds of colors in the studio but when painting outdoors one can only carry a few. The trick is to come up with a versatile combination of 6 (or so) essential paints that will fit most seascape situations. After about an hour of experimenting and studying the plein air paintings in my drying racks I came up with a small set and emailed my recommendations.

I use chips of paper when I paint outside to approximate the values and colors of nature. These chips come in handy for all sorts of problem-solving in the studio. I discuss this and other methods in my video “Shimmering Light” available from Liliedahl Productions and Streamline Publishing.

I refer to my seascape studies painted on site in combination with chips from my work en plein air. From these sources I can determine the essential colors one would likely need for an approximation of the color of the sea on a typical day.

Choosing a limited palette to paint skies

The idea of these small sets is to provide a needed starting place for beginners, akin to a young carpenter’s first hammer. Experienced painters already understand color choices are intensely personal and an artist’s color expressions reflect a lifetime of seeing far more than what most beginners can yet see.

12:30 pm – I need to head to the beach to paint but first Danuta and I are having a little lunch and a chat about the days ahead. A trip to New York City is coming up but first we have Thanksgiving to contend with.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

1:00 pm – Time to go out and paint. Today I intend to do a study of a familiar subject to work through a specific problem. Several of my recent paintings have been drifting into a higher key. Why this has happened is another story. But I’m looking to practice a deeper value range for my next series of paintings. So I’m hoping to research these effects while the weather is fair this week. We have several beaches in our little town. Today I’m choosing Fisherman’s beach for its clear view of the Boston skyline and its quiet harbor. I will use the strip of land on the horizon to give me the darkest values in the painting.

Plein air painting on a beach

After setting up at the edge of a dune I blocked in a simple composition. My goal is to study the sunlight effects through the clouds and allow the reflections on the water to provide some verticals to counteract the l horizon. I used a seagull feather to soften the edges of the clouds.

The point of this study today is to try to keep my values to an accurate range and to resist the temptation to make the shadow side of the clouds too pale or too light.
Studies like this are just part of the process. It is similar to a musician practicing an instrument or a singer doing vocal exercises. The study is not made for any other purpose. It does not need to go to a gallery. It is necessary practice with deliberate purpose and I make time for it. One of the fun things about being an artist is it never really gets easy. New artistic challenges are always arising and the learning never ends.

3:30 pm – After finishing the painting at the beach, the next stop is a delivery to The Rockport Art Association & Museum. My painting “Diamond Life” was juried into the national exhibition. Today is the designated drop-off date for accepted pieces.

The trip is about 30 minutes from my studio. Even after the summer crowds are gone Rockport can be a busy town and a difficult place to find a parking spot. But I lucked out and the delivery was easy. I just had to wait for the traffic to slow down a bit.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

After filling out the paperwork at the drop off I decided to take a few minutes to walk around a bit. Rockport is home to many artists, some of whom have become friends. Today, I found Joli Ayn Wood finishing up a small painting in her new studio gallery on Main Street and decided to drop in to say hello. We caught up a bit and she shared some interesting painting panels she’s trying out.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha
(special thanks to Joli Ayn Wood for permission to include her here)

4:30 pm – That visit was continued at The Fish House Restaurant near Bearskin Neck where I had an early supper.

6:00 pm – When I arrived back in Swampscott I went to the porch with my guitar and a cup of tea. I strummed for a while and allowed for some freethinking. Some of my best ideas come to me while recharging this way. I believe the muses need their space or they don’t show up. Though we own a TV it is rarely on.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

7:00 pm to Midnight – It has been a satisfying day, but there is still serious work ahead. I’ve put the guitar down and I’m back in the studio focusing on that painting I mentioned earlier. I stayed there for the next 6 hours painting while listening to music, audiobooks, and podcasts.

This painting was inspired by a scene on Martha’s Vineyard. I have a few new ideas on how to approach the textures in the sand and I’m eager to try them out.

A Day in the Life of Mark Shasha

The artificial light in the studio is warm and I’m careful to avoid big decisions on color temperature until I have daylight. For that reason, I prefer working primarily on texture and composition problems at night while leaving the more subtle color work for the next day. Some artists have lamps that can mimic cool natural daylight, but I’ve had bad luck with those.

I will try to get to bed by 1:00 am, but I hate to walk away from the easel. A true night owl, these are the most intense hours of the day for me. My concentration skills are at their peak. It is no accident I leave my mornings as free as possible.

Related >  Many artists have experienced a moment in time when a piece of artwork truly captured their heart and mind. That’s no different for Mark. At just eight years old, his mother took him to an art festival where they looked at a lot of art. As Mark explains, everything was ‘just okay’ until he saw an artist demonstrating how to paint sea grass. For Mark, that’s the day his life changed.

Always living by the sea in New England, Mark is passionate about capturing the light, mood, and shimmer in his paintings.

In “Shimmering Light” and “Painting the Golden Hour,” Mark’s goal is to help you discover what you genuinely love to paint and to lead you in fulfilling your own desire to make those elements in your landscape paintings look and feel natural.

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    • Hi Susan! I’m glad you enjoyed this! We loved it, too, and so I’m happy to let you know that I have more stories like this coming soon in Plein Air Today! Thank you for reading this, and happy painting!


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