Saturday, August 31, 2013

My first Plein Air Event - The Experience & What I Learned!

The Paso Robles Art Festival and Plein Air Quick Draw 

Setting the goal.

I love painting on location and one of my goals for 2013 was to participate in my first plein air event.   Having talked to my artist friend Dan Schultz about his experiences last year I had a better idea of the different events in So Cal, and thought that maybe it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone and make that next move as an artist.   Over the years I've attended some PleinAir events, like the Laguna Invitational and PAPA's event on Catalina Island as a spectator.  And I have thoroughly enjoyed watching some very talented artists paint.   I wasn't quite sure which event I would choose (I knew it wouldn't be the Laguna event:)  and it turned out, quite by happy accident that the Paso Robles Art Festival and Quick-draw would be my first event.
Stilt walkers at the Festival of Arts

Recognizing the opportunity 
After setting that goal I had to figure out:  How do I make this happen?
 Well...It was through an introduction by my fellow Artist-in-residence Daggi Wallace that I met Anne Laddon, the inspiring founder of Studios on the Park in Paso Robles in February.  She was kind enough to look at my work and then suggested that I take part in their Plein Air event in May.   Little did she know that it would be my first time doing a quick-draw.   But even after she found out, she took the leap and still invited me, deciding that I would be her wild card!  What courage!   Her confidence in me has been a great gift to my growth as an artist!

Anne at work capturing the colors of the library.

Practice, Practice

At that time in February, and since I had left my daily work in Animation to pursue the dream of being a full-time fine artist I had been focusing mostly on painting small and painting daily.   With two young children, the pursuit of an art career is a true balance of family and art.  It's a crazy puzzle and working within my schedule I was painting a lot of 6x6 size paintings,
but nothing much bigger than that.
Taking part in this event I would have to paint bigger!....At least 12x12 panels!   Some artists were known to paint even bigger sizes for this event.   I also had to be prepared to finish my painting in 2 hours, with spectators and distractions...:-)   Let's just say I was inspired by the challenge.

Me - Painting the old Nursery for the Plein Air Masters Exhibit

In Preparation - Discovering the beauty around Paso Robles

One thing that set this event apart from others was that there was a separate Plein Air Invitational Exhibit that would take place at the same time as the Art Festival with the Quick-draw, but the paintings for this exhibit were painted ahead of time and not during the event.
"The Plein Air Masters" exhibit  -  featured paintings of 16 artists whose company I was a little overwhelmed to be a part of.  Well-known artists like Will Hosner, Debra Huse, Jason Situ, John Cosby and Libby Tolley to mention just a few. Here's the whole list.

We were asked to enter paintings of the local scenery around Paso Robles, painted en Plein air.
An added bonus to that experience was that I learned even more about what I'm drawn to as an artist.   I've painted a lot of landscapes and nature, but as color has become a greater focus for me...and perhaps being "affected by the experience of aging" found myself seeking out subjects that spoke to a place in history, like the abandoned old nursery and classical cars and familiar long-standing eateries.  And they all had color combinations that I loved.

My three paintings in the exhibit

Another bonus:   This exhibit also meant that I had to write a new biography, which was slightly daunting since I'm fairly new in this game.  This is where great artist friends input really helped!  What it ultimately taught me was to just embrace where I am in my journey.   I can't be any further along than what I am, so celebrate that "little solo exhibit in Sweden" and the "on the job training" that painting Animation backgrounds provided.

All of this lead up to:
 The early morning activities in the park, across from Studios on The Park

Paso Robles Festival of Arts

I arrived in Paso the night before the event and got to stay in a hotel room provided by the organisers.  What an absolute treat!  I had the opportunity to see a fabulous presentation on Pleinair Painting by a very knowledgeable and entertaining Jean Stern.  He's the executive Director of the Irvine Museum and has authored the book
California Light: A Century of Landscapes: Paintings of the California Art Club 
and many other noteworthy books on California Impressionism

The Morning of

The morning of the Quick-Draw, I got up early.  I knew I would want to give myself the best opportunity to be less stressed.  I  would eat a good breakfast and scope out a painting spot so I could be ready to go at 9AM when the bell would ring.   It was a beautiful sunny and hazy day when I arrived at Studios on the Park.  There was a lot of activity and with a little help I got registered and set to paint.
Now what would I paint?  Our area t...included the park and a block around it.  I knew that Anne would have some classical cars and models for us to paint.   I walked around and took a bunch of pictures to figure out where I wanted to set up.  Even without the added stress of a quick-draw it's sometimes difficult to pick something....when you paint outdoors.  I spent a little time wishing that the cars were in a different area with the morning haze behind them...but I had to give up that thought and move on.   I ran into a few of the painters.  All in all we were 25 artists participating in the quick-draw.   The best advice I got was from Thomas Van Stein.   I asked him if he had any tips for someone who was doing this for the first time and he responded simply:  Be brave!

The Actual Quick-draw

Be brave!  That turned out to be really great advice!   When I paint I've found that I like subjects (or scenes) that feature a high horizon line.  I also love the bright colors of classical cars and back-lighting.  If you look at the picture above you might see that I found a spot that had all of those elements and 2 classical cars, which is where the brave part came into play.

I was excited and nervous getting started and with the time crunch I did find myself just taking off running.   It sort of felt like any orderly process was out the window and I was just working on getting the drawing on there immediately, so I could start covering the canvas.   I didn't really take time to stop and ponder things...:-)   What did add to the stress was the fact that cars would come and park in front of my chevy and I had to politely ask them if they cold move...
which didn't always happen - but then I would just focus on other areas of the painting.   Scott Prior (who was painting the truck from across the street)  had the same problem as me and we finally got a cone put in the parking spot between the cars.
   The people who stopped by were encouraging and had questions that I was able to answer as I painted.  I also had business cards available for them to pick up.
A lot of questions were about the paint-saver palette I use.
You can see it attached to my OpenBoxM above and it is made by Camille Przewodek's husband Dale Axelrod.
It was encouraging to have some painter friends stop by during the process and Jean Stern saw my work half-way through as well.

The most stressful part of the day came after I was all done.


Framing for the auction

We had half an-hour when we finished, between 11AM to 11:30AM to get our paintings framed and on display by the arbor in the middle of the park.  The way I paint with color I tend to frame those pieces a little more contemporary with floating frames.   It's a little more complex a process than using a regular frame where you just pop the painting in from the back.   I thought I was really smart to have brought a glue-gun to avoid having to wait for the material I usually use to dry?   But it turned out that with the day being so hot, the glue was drying too fast and it made it difficult to make my canvas back and forth I ran to get my painting attached with my usual silicone material.
I didn't have a separate easel to set my painting on, and I was too late to be able to use one of the ones provided by the event so I ended up using my Painting easel to set it up...and heeuuh...the auction was about to start.
But before that, Jean Stern would give out some awards.

I felt so fortunate to be able to hang out with my artists friend Debbie Martin and her husband during the wait...I was really nervous, and she came back and hinted that I should go and see my painting....

It turned out that my painting received one of the awards of excellence from Jean Stern.
What a surprise! It was a wonderful end to a great first quick-draw experience.

So my tips for a successful plein air event....or
what I learned from my experience is to:

Be rested
Don't look for the perfect spot, but do find what speaks to you!
Be brave
Enjoy the chaos.. and go with the flow
Have simple framing options and an easel ready to display.
Have fun and share your joy for painting with those who stop by

And I'll echo what Jean Stern told me.
He stopped by in the middle of my painting process, and I said:
"Eeuuh, you're seeing it in the ugly stage"   
To which he responded (and I paraphrase) :
 Most paintings are in the ugly stage until about 10 minutes before you'll be fine! 

So encouraging and wise.

1 comment:

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