I started plein air painting four years ago. I painted in the Quickdraw at the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, my first such event. I knew none of the artists. Afterwards, I chanced to be lunching at the table next to the one where master painter Morgan Samuel Price was sitting. Morgan had just won an award in the Quickdraw. My friend and I introduced ourselves and began talking with her, the usual niceties. Afterwards, I looked up her website to see who she was, and I was appropriately amazed by her paintings, both the skill and the affect. I was thrilled when I found out that she was offering a plein air painting workshop in Apalachicola that next spring. Apalachicola is only 100 miles away from my home. It is a village with an interesting history, and great painting subjects ranging from the working shrimping trawlers and oystering boats to decrepit shotgun houses and restored mansions. What a great place to take my first workshop in plein air painting! I blogged about Morgan’s amazing patience – that was in March of 2014.
I took two more workshops from Morgan – one the next year, in Apalachicola, and one last year, in Taos. This year I signed up to take her workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia, in October. I like learning to paint in different locations – it forces me to learn to paint things that are new to me. I got a call from Morgan in late spring, saying that she had space in her Estes Park workshop. I decided to go. Having grown up in Colorado, I was familiar with Estes Park, but I had not looked at it with artist’s eyes in over 40 years, and certainly not with plein air painter’s eyes. I had gone to Estes Park for a family get-together for my Dad’s 90th birthday, but it was wintertime, and the landscape is completely different when covered with snow. So I was completely agog as we drove Hwy 36 through the foothills to Lyons and then up the North St. Vrain Canyon. My awe grew as we continued up the canyon to finally stop at a quaint cabin just north of Estes Park, which would be home base for the week.
Whether it was the demos, the instruction, my awe with the geography, or simply the good company, and no doubt a combination of all that, I enjoyed this workshop like no other, and feel that I learned volumes! And that brings me to the reason I am writing this blog, which is to attest to the value of finding a mentor and repeatedly studying with that person. Of course it certainly helps if the mentor is a master painter!
With a good mentor, you develop a trusting relationship, which makes you more receptive to their suggestions and criticism, and more self-confident in your painting. You become better at the language of painting, better at explaining your challenges, better at asking the right questions, and you learn to observe at the right times, and to pay attention to what has previously eluded you. You even learn better teaching progressions for your own workshops. You become more in tune with your own motivations and you paint with more personal authority, trusting your instinct more. And you develop a stronger eye for assessing your own work, as well as that of others. I’m not saying there isn’t value in taking workshops from different artists — I have learned from a number of instructors. But the value in a mentor is the trusting relationship that develops, which makes it possible to listen to their feedback without feeling as defensive. I confess I still have some resistance, still wanting to justify why I painted something less effectively than I could, but I am able to understand and agree much more than I used to. I also am acquiring attitudes and standards of excellence which will be helpful to me in my career.
I can’t wait to get into the studio now and start working on larger paintings! The grandeur of the glacier-carved Rockies, especially on Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road, simply begs for large canvases. Below are the studies I did in this workshop.
The painting above is available through my blog, just click it for purchase information and, as always, contact me if you have any questions about purchasing my work.
I am starting to more and more realize the value of paint sketches. Even when they don’t seem to have any merit at all – I always have learned from them. Below are some of my paint sketches. In the first one, I was looking for the right colors for the mountain and the sky. In the second, I was studying the colors and shapes of some rocks, and in the third, I was looking at the difference between ponderosa pines and blue spruce.