Friday, August 3, 2018

Summerhill Sketching: What Really Goes on at the House on the Hill?

Would you like to see what it's like to take a painting class at Summerhill? I snapped some photos during the "Sketching at Summerhill" workshop I taught yesterday to give you an idea of why so many people make the trip out to my house in Prosperity, Pennsylvania, just to paint for a few hours. (Of course, there's really good food and wine and great company, too, but aren't they really coming for my spectacular lessons? I like to think so.)

My guests had a surprise when they pulled in the driveway yesterday. Our house had magically changed color since the last time they were here!

The house had been yellow with green and white trim for the past 18 years, but I thought it was time for a change, so we had it painted a nice fresh pale blue-grey with bright white trim. What do you think of the new color scheme?  My sketching friends all seemed to like the new look when they saw it yesterday.

The previous paint colors. The hydrangeas were much prettier the year this picture was taken!

I weeded the gardens in preparation for workshop day - I wanted Summerhill to look its best! The deer have been doing a number on my flowers this year, munching roses and hydrangeas like crazy, but we still have quite a few blooming around the back patio...

along with masses of gloriosa daisies...


and a few hydrangea blooms that have survived the onslaught from the deer...

I like to pick flowers from the gardens to make arrangements for the tables when I'm hosting a class. Fresh flowers just add a little something special to an occasion (or to an everyday kind of day).

For the dining room, I chose hydrangeas in a range of colors that coordinated with my mother's old lilac china.

In the breakfast room, I opted for cheery gloriosa daisies and white hydrangeas...

My favorite arrangement, though, was this pretty bouquet on the sun porch - a hand-painted vase filled with a single blue hydrangea surrounded by white hydrangeas and zinnias...

I picked the flowers early, while morning fog filled the valley below the house and the dew was still on the grass. The tables were set early in the day in preparation for the arrival of my guests.

My mother and I had started cooking the night before, preparing what we could ahead of time, but there's always so much to do on the day of the workshop! I did the final vacuuming of the main floor of the house (Buckley territory!) while she prepped food for the happy hour to come.

"What, me shed?"

People began to arrive around 1:30 and soon the driveway was lined with cars, and the kitchen was filled with happy voices. It's a reunion every month here at Summerhill, when we reconnect with friends from past classes, painting retreats, or European workshop tours. Everyone grabs a glass of iced tea or water then heads down to the classroom on the lower level of the house.

I'm so excited to have a brand new set-up for doing demos now here in my home classroom, thanks to my helpful husband, Fred. There's seating for up to 20 people in the viewing area where they can watch live demonstrations of the lesson I'm teaching.

I film with my iPad which connects wirelessly to a wall-mounted TV using Apple TV. It's really slick!

Photo by Colleen Nelson

The students love being able to see my painting demonstrations on the monitor. No more peering over people's heads trying to see what I'm doing at the demo table!

Photo by Colleen Nelson

I had a special guest at yesterday's class. My granddaughter, Callista Rose, joined us for the class (and an overnight stay at Grandma and Grandpa's). She LOVES to paint, and when I told her about how we all get together to learn about painting, her eyes lit up and she jumped up and down, exclaiming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" How could I say no?

Photo by Colleen Nelson

She watched the demo carefully, then marched right over to her seat and started painting (with artist's quality paints, no less!)

I think she may have been the most confident painter in the class.

After my demonstration, everyone got to work on their sketches.

Jenny's sketch just needs a few finishing touches

Our lesson was on painting masses of trees and foliage in the mid-ground of a sketch. The reference photo was of a scene just down the hill from my house.

Angela really got the hang of the lesson!

As everyone worked, I walked around the classroom, helping where needed and admiring the work everyone was doing. My step-by-step approach breaks down the painting process into manageable steps, and the full-color handout ensures no one forgets those steps the minute the demo is over.

Everyone is free to take a break, walk around the room, and grab a cup of coffee or a bottle of water during the class. I like to keep my students' energy up, so there's always a supply of chocolate available.

Yesterday, the candy dish was filled with Godiva dark chocolate truffles, but it looks like they were a popular item during the afternoon slump. Now all that's left is Reese's peanut butter cups. :(

After class, it was time for show and tell!

Callista put her painting front and center with the grown-ups' sketches

Everyone was pretty happy with their work, and I reminded them that, if they redid the lesson at home, they'd probably do even better with it. It all just takes practice.

The menu for Sketching at Summerhill varies with the seasons, and I have fun planning special dishes to surprise everyone. Here's what I served this time:

Prosciutto, Fig, and Pear Pizza

Artichoke Dip with Crackers

Stuffed Mushrooms (oops, forgot to take a picture)

Cucumber Cups with Smoked Salmon Salad

Mojito Watermelon  

Amaretti (Italian Almond Cookies) & Chocolate Cookies

and last, but definitely not least, Wine Floats!
Candy, ready for her first sip of a rosé wine float with strawberry ice cream & fresh strawberries

Oh yes, we do have fun together! The wine floats were a big hit. I offered bubbly Prosecco and a yummy rosé plus a choice of vanilla ice cream, raspberry sherbet, or strawberry ice cream and fresh strawberries. You could choose your own combination. Everyone thought they were surprisingly good. And the light cookies I served with them were the perfect finishing touch.

After dinner, it was sharing time. We gathered in the living room, and when I asked who wanted to go first, five-year-old Callista popped up and said, "Me!" 

Callista's tree house sketch

She would have shown every page of her sketchbook if I had let her. She wants to be "an artist like grandma" when she grows up. My protégée!

Larry shared his beautiful floral painting...

Carol brought a vacation sketch with a nice page design and lots of depth...

Jeannie's piece was a hand-lettered spiral quote, where you start reading in the center and gradually spiral around until you finish on the outside edge. I had never seen anything like it before. Can you find the beginning and end? Hint: the quote is a verse from Ecclesiastes which begins "To everything there is a season..."

Colleen carries her sketchbook everywhere and fills it with pen and ink drawings done in her inimitable style.

Teresa recently completed this beautifully detailed iris painting....

Donah traveled three hours from Ohio just to be here, and she shared the accordion-fold calendar sketchbook she started for the month of August. I can't wait to see it completed!

She also showed us this wonderful illustrated recipe she did for a friend...

And I shared this sketch from my Maine travel journal. It's a scene from the gardens at Vesper Hill Children's Chapel in Camden...

Before everyone left, we took a picture of the gang on the front porch.

I feel so lucky to have this place where we can gather together to learn, share, and grow. We support and encourage each other, and over time, we've become friends. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms and they tend to blend seamlessly into the mix of women and men, young and old, country folks and city dwellers. We all enjoy a painting getaway, and even though this one only lasts a few hours, it nourishes our spirits and leaves us feeling renewed. (Okay, I have to admit I'm a little tired at the end of it, too, but all the work is so worth it!)

Everyone leaves Summerhill happy, and that makes me happy, too.

I'd love to welcome you to Summerhill one day, too. I have two more classes planned for 2018. The next one will be October 18, and the last one, just before the holidays, will be on November 15. Let me know if you'll be in the area and would like to join us.

If you can't make it to PA, check out my other workshops by clicking on the US Workshops tab and the European Workshops tab above.


  1. What a gorgeous home you have, Leslie—inside and out. I love the new colors! Looks like you had a great turnout of very creative people. They shared some beautiful work. Callista did a wonderful job, and I love her “let’s get to painting!” spirit and enthusiastic sharing.

    Looking forward to catching up in Boone!

  2. I have to do this someday, Leslie. It is SO my thing and I know I could learn so much in this one day. I already do from your terrific tutorials. Bravo for hosting such a fabulous event!

  3. Leslie, I love the new color on your home, and what a wonderfully decorated, welcoming home you make it. Thank you for sharing it with others.............


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