Laura Summer

Color, Composition, Contemplation
This year this course will be taught online

2021/22 Free Columbia will offer a series of  online intensives in the basic lawfulness of color and composition with Laura Summer. What is it to devote ourselves to something? What happens when we give our attention using artistic practice? Does our work open up and develop in unexpected directions? How can we enter the realm of qualities and create here? How can we work with text, poetry, contemplation?

Using many media including watercolor, charcoal, ink, block printing, poetry and surface collage we will explore these questions together.

For years people have told us that they wished they could come to the painting course at Free Columbia but they could not move to New York for a full time year. This course is an attempt to meet this need.  We will explore and exercise our capacities in the quality realm. How is blue different from red? How much weight is needed to balance the painting? How can we translate from word to color? This course is open to both experienced and new painters. We will work together online every week.
contact Laura Summer 518.672.7302

Some thoughts about the course:

When I was a student in painting school I was given cloud studies as an assignment. Sitting on the lawn, gazing at the sky, trying to capture on paper the form language of the clouds, I had a major realization - God is much better at composition than I am. The natural world is filled with interesting, dynamic, coherent and incoherent harmony, vastly more interesting than what I can draw when I think of cloud, or tree or stone. As a painter I wondered how can I harvest some of this vast harmony and have it inform my work? So started the past 30 years of struggling to bring what is behind the world, what creates the world, out onto the canvas. It is never completely successful, but it is ever more and more a fascinating exploration.

 The world of two dimensions worked with by the painter is lawful. Color is lawful, as is line, surface and composition. How can we learn to respect this lawfulness while at the same time playing in its realm? Blue is a reality that has a certain quality, it makes me feel a certain way. When I put it next to red something very specific happens that is different than if I put it next to yellow or black. How can the painter develop a sensitivity to feel this lawfulness and at the same time be in a state of experimentation and dialogue. Where is the realm that exists between expressionism, (it’s all about what I want to say), and impressionism, (it’s all about what is outside me). We can not only find this realm, we can live there as painters, and be continuously nourished and inspired by moving between the polarity of self and other.

 How do we do it ? By patiently exercising our perceptive capacities while painting and drawing. By painting blue and adding red, then painting blue and adding yellow. By comparing these feelings, locating the realm of quality within me. Where do these feelings live? Then bringing these feeling capacities to my work. For me it’s not about what I want to tell the world, but it’s also not about what blue wants to tell the world, it’s about my conversation with blue and what is said there. My conversation will be different from yours, just as my conversation with my neighbor over the fence about how to grow sweet peas in the sun, will be different from yours with that same neighbor from the shady side of her yard. Both conversations hold the potential of interest.

 So I wonder if there are other people who want to explore these things? At Free Columbia we have experimented with many forms of teaching and now in 2021/22 we will explore conducting this class online. What happens when a group of people come together every week for 10 months to explore painting together? What changes in my work because I see yours? 

 Experimenting with new forms is always challenging and so it is the perfect activity for artists, for artists stand always on the edge, sensing the vast discomfort and the exhilarating strength of the unknown. My question is can we work here together, find new forms and help each other forward?

Reflections from students in the 2018/19 course:

“This course has helped me to break out of many narrow habits.   I see how my own artwork is subtly transformed. And how in looking out into the world, I see relationships of form and color that I’ve never noticed before.  They show themselves to me and I can imagine them saying, “Where have you been?”  I had the image around the time of our third session that I was riding on a train and that the course wasn’t putting me on a different track but that the track I was already on was climbing higher and through new territory.” Jo Valens

“If you want to know how color works, how it lives, how it walks, how it sits on a page - take this course. Color had always been a blind spot for me. I'd always been a black-white-gray, light-and-shadow artist. I hadn't learned about color theory beyond memorizing the color wheel, and the only way I knew about complimentary colors was by remembering to look across the wheel from one color to the other. Now I know how the color wheel works, why compliments exist, how they're useful, and how the individual colors themselves act. This course will require a lot of exertion at times, and will ask you to do things you've never done before, but it'll be worth it.” Andrew Madey

More information is at