landscape art + design

Portraits of Nature: purple pink green

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

Portraits of Nature: purple pink green

This painting came from an experience cycling in Westchester, NY and south-western Connecticut in late summer of 2017. This painting shares a memory of rolling hills lush and green, dappled shade from trees along a quiet country road, and the vibrant bold color of dahlia blooms in flower fields. 

book: lost landscapes

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

lost landscapes: shares the practice of Rotterdam landscape architects LOLA, and provides perspective of contemporary urban landscapes that are forgotten, derelict, and hold potential to change.

a matter of perspective

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

Recently, I visited the MFA in Boston to see the current exhibition of 'Sargent's Watercolors.' I came seeking inspiration, seeking something to help me move forward in my own work. I was not disappointed.

john singer sergeant, oil on canvas, 'daughters of edward boit,' (1882)

john singer sergeant, oil on canvas, 'daughters of edward boit,' (1882)

John Singer Sargent is known primarily for his stunning portraiture work of prestigious individuals and their families, including 'Daughters of Edward Darley Boit' (1882), which can be found in the Boston MFA, and the portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardener at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. These paintings typify the control and technique which distinguished Sargent in his time, with a special artistry for composition and capturing of each individual's character in a single scene. There is an atmosphere created through every detail of these images to portray the subjects as desired, but to also provide a window into the vision of the artist.


This exhibition is special because it focuses on a different aspect of Sargent's tremendous body of work, watercolors. Sargent treated watercolors as an exploratory medium, in which he captured a great breadth of scenes in his travels - from Roman architecture and city streets and canals of Venice, to rolling hills of the english countryside, the Middle East, the New England Coast, and Florida. For many years he merely collected stacks of these paintings, giving some away as gifts; it wasn't until later in Sargent's career that he decided to exhibit and sell collections of the watercolors. Each of these Sargent paintings or sketches are characterized by vivid, fine tuned, and bold color palettes; confident brush strokes, approached with intensity and obsession, to capture each scene of inspiration.

In this exhibition with dozens upon dozens of Sargent's beautiful watercolor paintings, two paintings in the exhibition proved to be especially memorable for the subject matter, technical execution, and the intentional portraiture of subculture in the early 20th century. 

john singer sargent, watercolor on paper, 'santa maria della salute,' (1904) 

john singer sargent, watercolor on paper, 'santa maria della salute,' (1904) 

1. 'Santa Maria della Salute' offers a non-traditional view of the Roman church, portraying its stature and tremendous architectural detailing, juxtaposed by fisherman's boats hovering in the foreground.  A closer examination of the painting reveals a light layer of pencil lines to organize and layout the scene. These marks are expressed with careful precision, before the rich layers of paint are applied - I am told Sargent typically does so in a continuous manner. Never allowing the paint to dry completely. There is an apparent difference between the application of paint for the architecture versus the fisherman's boats. The church lends a warm subtlety and richness of detailing, whereas the boats in the foreground give an impression of detail through bold and confident placement of layered brushstrokes. Warm washes of ochre with smudges of earthy burnt umber and cerulean blues describe swaddled fabric of a collapsed sail or spare clothing awaiting the next journey.

This juxtaposition, stoic architecture in the background with evidence of daily life in the fore to activate the scene, is what moves the piece beyond simple observation and makes it compelling. In such compositions we can observe layers of culture, contradictions of everyday life, and make conjectures as to how they were able to coexist. The image calls you in from across the room with a quiet reverence, then draws you closer - revealing more layers of complexity with every step. I follow the washes and brush strokes across the page, trying to discern how this was constructed, and in what order the colors were placed. Background to foreground, transparent to opaque, warm to cool. One might think so, if not for the discernible scrapes and smudges to deduct color from areas. In a fervor, it is likely that Sargent was activating the entire canvas with his mark-making - as a ripple can so quickly carry across the surface of a body of water. This is the beauty of Sargent's Watercolors. 

john singer sargent, watercolor on paper, 'carrara lizzatori,' (1911)

john singer sargent, watercolor on paper, 'carrara lizzatori,' (1911)

2. 'Carrara lizzatori' was created amongst dozens of paintings to document several weeks Sargent spent in the mountains of northern Italy living near a marble quarry. It is said that he was absolutely enamored with painting the white architectural stone for much of his career, and Sargent's journey to the marble quarry was inevitable. (

 The lizzatori, the men whom mine the precious stone, ascend the mountainous stairway towards another day of hard labor. Sargent is obviously enraptured by the colors reflected off the pale mountain-side; warm ochre ledges in the sunlight cast purple-blue shadows below. In this piece the mountain is in the foreground, demanding the spotlight for its natural beauty and reverence, and the men play a supporting role to the composition as they slowly disassemble and sell the very ground beneath them.    


This body of work is a source of inspiration and hope; an intimate collection which shares one man's investigation of landscape, exploration of color and light, and evolution of understanding through a lifetime of observation. I am not sure whether it is the transportive scenes from around the world, or my respect for Sargent's determination to follow and exist within his passions of painting. 


bicycle ride: a field of flowers

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

after a weekend of gorging myself on delicious food with friends and family i felt the need to spend my sunday afternoon cycling through the countryside. on such a clear, crisp, and sunny august afternoon what could be better?

my favorite area to ride just outside of boston is the lincoln / concord area. you get winding country roads, rolling hills (the fun kind!), conscientious drivers, and gorgeous scenery. who could ask for more?

well, another benefit to riding in this area (as many cyclists already know) are the multitude of organic farms, community gardens, and agricultural fields. seriously, they are EVERYWHERE. there are also incredible cultural sites including the Mass Audubon Society’s conservation land and wildlife sanctuary, the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, and uber popular historic sites such as Walden’s Pond – home to Thoreau and Emerson as a tranquil place for life and contemplation.

every time i ride through this area, something new is uncovered and i realize how much is yet to be discovered. it is quite wonderful, really.

flower field, the food project, lincoln ma

flower field, the food project, lincoln ma


today, while coasting along route 117 just past the Mass Audubon Society, i looked to my right and was struck by a large field of wildflowers. this was not your typical field, as it is a linear, cultivated flower field.

The Food Project, a non-profit organization which provides community farming / gardening opportunities to the greater Boston area, has 27 acres of land for farming and community education in lincoln, ma. this series of fields are part of the "project." 

Dozens of perfect rows were bursting with bold and striking swaths of color. I was so struck, in fact, that I had to pull over and take a closer look…

along with about 100 photos…

It is an addiction, really. None-the-less, I think there is a painting in the future :)



a (half) lifetime of trips to visit my grandparents

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

this painting began to materialize in my mind at a very young age. as a child my family traveled to visit my grandparents in upstate new york every other weekend. by my college years it seemed i had traversed the same familiar sequence an infinite number of times; gazing out the window from the back seat of my parent’s minivan. despite this repetition, there was always something new to see – some discrete or unmemorable stretch of road yet to be discovered (or rediscovered).

en route, we traveled down your traditional rural vermont roads – long and winding through patches of woodland and then straight past large expanses of cornfields and cow pastures. in milton we would hook left toward the champlain ferry in south hero, traveling for several miles before getting to my favorite part.

sand bar beach.

roosevelt highway/rt.2 is the road that connects rural vermont to its largest island on lake champlain, south hero/grand isle. sand bar beach is part of a 1,000-acre wildlife refuge, which consists primarily of marshland and is a popular nesting area for a variety of migratory birds, turtles and other animals. all I new as a child was that it was beautiful.

after passing through the marshland we would traverse open water on a narrow road. i loved to stare at the reflection of the rippling water as distant fisherman and sail boats glided lazily across the surface. just before reaching the open water, clusters of trees provide a frame to capture the glorious green mountains beyond. over the years these vertical columns became engrained in my memory, equivalent to the beauty and strength of columns in classical greek temples. what make the trees unique are their structure, size, and positioning... or lack of positioning. and depending on the time of day and lighting, these pieces of living architecture could become objects of focus in the foreground, or mere silhouettes to frame the scenery behind.

i still visit my grandparents quite often, and have made a few bicycle trips out to the sand bar. this painting was formatted from a photograph I took several years ago, and evolved over the course of 18 months based upon a (half) lifetime of memories.


Is there value in sketching? Urban Sketching Symposium

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

Do hand rendered images and representations still have value in the field of Landscape Architecture?

For at least the past several years Landscape professionals have been involved in a game of catch-up in order to remain at the front end of rapidly changing technology and production systems. Everything is changing - from how designers brainstorm and represent ideas, to the production of documents for planning and construction, to the materials and process of construction.

I constantly find myself asking questions about what drives the value and necessity of these technological upgrades? And is it necessary to continue to utilize visual thinking and brainstorming skills such as sketching? 

I would like to highlight the practice of sketching,   and provide an example of how it still holds value for design professionals.  

Land8, a Landscape Architecture website, provides information about national and international design projects, professional development, and dialogue for design professionals. I try to make a habit of visiting this site weekly for various reasons:

1. To learn about cool new projects and follow project discussions.

2. Because when I am feeling uninspired I know that there is something on Land8 that will inspire me.

3. To understand and learn from perspectives of practitioners, students, and educators from around the world.

I recently found a posting about the "4th International Urban Sketching Symposium" in Barcelona. Participants from 30 different countries gathered together to celebrate sketching. The discussion itself is not provided, however a sampling of beautifully sketched street scenes are shared.

I am interested to hear other ideas of if and why sketching should be maintained as a standard practice for Landscape Architecture and design professionals. 



2013 may 27 - painting in process...

Added on by rebecca kanfer.
a bridge overpass becomes an energetic strip of color and movement... the highway below also breathes new life. Fluctuating water ebbs and flows within the recessed channel. Terraced forms sculpt the edges, while history is carved out along the ground surface.

a bridge overpass becomes an energetic strip of color and movement... the highway below also breathes new life. Fluctuating water ebbs and flows within the recessed channel. Terraced forms sculpt the edges, while history is carved out along the ground surface.

painting in process...

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

breakdown of image and graphic interest in composition. 

begin with a framework for seeing. the composition is based on a singular perspective with a strong directional pull towards the horizon/vanishing point...

begin with a framework for seeing. the composition is based on a singular perspective with a strong directional pull towards the horizon/vanishing point...

ACE Mentor Legacy Design Project - Preliminary School Yard Design Meeting

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

Preliminary work has begun on the ACE Mentor Legacy Design Project, in preparation for the annual ASLA national convention. The project provides the opportunity for mentees/students, community members, and design professionals to collaborate on a service project. This year's selection is a school yard design for PJ Kennedy Elementary School in East Boston, MA.

Please follow the below link for more information - I will continue to post updates as the project evolves.

a walk in the woods - art or science?

Added on by rebecca kanfer.

This evening I read a rather refreshing article, "Noticing: How To Take A Walk In The Woods," by Adam Woods from the NPR website. The article is framed by a discussion of cultural and individual value - what we see as meaningful in our daily lives; I appreciate the discussion about the value of a simple act such as a walk in the woods. I am responding to the author's notion of what it means to "notice" and "observe" one's surroundings, and would like to interject the act of observing comes from a place of aesthetics and sensationalism before it is brought to one's scientific palette. 

The experience the author speaks of is equally or more so related to a phenomenon that is not quantitative at all. Thoreau, after all, is known for his poetry and writings about nature and beauty, as well as his astute observations and documentation of ecology and founding of 'naturalism'. One might say that he was inspired by nature enough to devote his life to the experience of nature and to understand the function of nature. When in nature, it is likely that one is acting as a scientist and an artist simultaneously. We are part of a culture driven by scientific thought and rationalized by what we can see and prove with logic and spreadsheets. For the record, I am not against the scientific method; in fact I believe that the creative process and imagination can be deepened and expanded with scientific intervention. Thanks to science we have learned to adapt ourselves and nature in a way that industry and culture can thrive, and ecologies are being defined in entirely new ways. With that said, the creative mind is equally important as rationalized thought, and is not used nearly enough.    

The Scientist and the Artist set off together to take a walk in the woods.

The Scientist stops short in front of a small white flower, stunned, and says, "Well my goodness. I can't believe this trillium is already coming into bloom, it must be almost 24 days ahead of its typical blooming period in this zone 4 climate. I must properly document this to share as evidence of global warming!"

The artist pauses to ponder the meaning of this early bloomer, thinking of how the small white flower symbolizes the grace and power one must poses to fulfill his or her dreams and life purpose. He lifts his gaze to his friend and says, "It is truly a miracle which lays here before us, a delicate white blossom that pops out at the eye amid the sea of monotonous browns and grays on the forest floor. Such brilliance it possesses to brighten our pathway in the midst of this month."  

The Artist then pauses to consider what the Scientist has said about regular bloom cycles - eluding to logic and reason of the existence of this flower, and then dismisses it. The same thought process travels through the Scientists mind, but in reverse. The two politely smile at one-another, take a final glimpse at the lone flower and continue their walk down the woodland pathway.