The Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) has long paired two painters with a good rapport in its onstage demo program. It’s safe to say the rapport between Howard Friedland and Susan Blackwood is better than the average pairing. Why?
Howard Friedland painting Elephant Head Rock, in China, this year
Because they not only share a love for painting, they share a bed — and a studio, and a marriage license. Blackwood and Friedland are wife and husband, and their easygoing natures make their scheduled painting demos at PACE a don’t-miss event.
“Cabins in the Woods,” by Howard Friedland, oil, 11 x 14 in.
Friedland says he will be painting from a photograph of a landscape, while Blackwood will paint a portrait of Eric Rhoads, the publisher of PleinAir magazine. Although things always feel different on a stage, this is otherwise a familiar setup. The spouses share a studio, with Friedland at one end and Blackwood at the other. “We have quite a nice studio that we built,” says Friedland. “It’s pretty big. Hopefully we’ll have time to show a few slides of the studio.”
“China Seascape,” by Howard Friedland, oil, 24 x 30 in.
Two artists in the same room, casting a critical eye on their own work — does it ever make for uncomfortable critiques? “We get that question a lot,” says Friedland. “We both respect each other’s work. We admire each other’s work and bring different skills and likes to our own work. The crits are always on the positive end because we are both trying to make a living and we both want each other’s paintings to be as good as they can be, look professional, and sell well. I mean, it’s great to have a second pair of eyes.
Susan Blackwood painting in Montana
“I always ask her when I finish a painting, ‘What do you think?’ She always loves what I do, but she may see something that I don’t see. We are so close that we understand that we each have each other’s best interest at heart. And after all, it all goes into the same bank account. We are not competing.”
“Rocky Mountain Madonna,” by Howard Friedland, oil, 12 x 9 in.
What if one artist doesn’t act on the advice given by the other? “It’s understood that you can do something about it — or not — and that’s OK,” says Friedland. “We have the choice. We each have been painting for 30 or 40 years. If we feel that the comment isn’t anything we really want to do, we don’t do it. We just let it go.”
“The Driveway,” by Susan Blackwood, oil, 8 x 10 in.
In their home studio, they each have their own setup and brushes and other supplies, but the two artists do work as a team on many things. Blackwood is more skilled with technology, so she handles the website and much of the marketing. Friedland will stretch canvases for Blackwood when he’s doing a batch for himself. They share reference photographs.
Howard Friedland painting the coast in China this past year
Recently the two traveled together with other U.S. artists under the auspices of Oil Painters of America for a painting trip to China. The group was there for two weeks, and many days they painted two pieces per day — two pieces that could be as large as 24″ x 30″.
“Boy, that was a challenge, but we did it,” says Friedland. “We got out the big brushes and blocked in big masses right away.”