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Plein Air Convention and Beyond

Pastel painting of a cove clifflike in Nova Scotia

I attended Plein Air Magazine’s 5th annual Plein Air Convention and Expo in Tucson, Arizona, a few weeks ago, for a week of lectures, demonstrations, and painting with 900 other plein air enthusiasts. The pre-convention workshop was presented by Matt Smith, an amazing painter who discussed his theories and practices and showed examples of everything from subtle temperature shift to panoramic composition. It was fairly overwhelming, and I took a ton of notes. Other convention presentations conflicted and overlapped, requiring choice and sacrifice. My intention was to learn about Marketing, so I attended Plein Air Magazine publisher Eric Rhoads’ Marketing Boot Camp lecture series which started every morning at 6:30 AM. Another seminar was offered by the magazine’s marketing team, who presented essential elements of every aspect of marketing, from developing a Curriculum Vitae to managing social media, gallery representation, and website development. I’ve got some work to do over the next year!

One of the demonstrations I attended was performed by Nancie King Mertz, who used pastels. I had not worked much with pastels as a medium alone, though I had a number of colors which I believe my mother had given me, that she did not use. When I was in college, I had used them merely to add background tone in some of my figure drawings. After attending Nancie’s demo, I went to the Expo store where fantastic deals were offered by manufacturers and distributors, to feed or hook every attending artists’ addictions – media, tools, toys, and DVD’s – and I bought a set of Sennelier soft pastels, the “Paris Collection”. As soon as I got home, I signed up for 4 lessons from our local Artist of the Year, Melody Bogle, who teaches pastel classes at our Bayou Arts Center for the Cultural Arts Alliance.

In the first two sessions, I painted a 9×12 of our Gulf Coast lupines. I immediately could see why pastelists need so many colors. My collection of 120 half-sticks was hardly adequate; I borrowed a the more subtle colors from Melody. A few days later, two commission patrons visited by my studio, and they left with Lupines, my first pastel, sold!

My second painting in soft pastels is above, a scene from my first artist-vacation 15 years ago, a trip to Nova Scotia. While I was painting it this week, I again experienced the feelings which prompted me to spent some time standing in that spot, enjoying the visual feast. It is my hope that people viewing my art also get some sense of that awe, the energy of that specific place.

The paintings I created at the plein air convention in Arizona are below. It’s a wonder I could paint anything at all, because of the disconnect between what I was learning or relearning at the convention, and what my right-brain could assimilate and immediately put to work.

2016-0416 Tucson Greens
“Tuscon Greens” is available in my store! Click the painting for more details.
Oil painting of a mountain ravine at Picacho Peak State Park, in Tucson, AZ

I painted this first painting, at left, outside my motel room door. The desert started at the edge of the hotel grounds. In the middle ground were some flat-roofed buildings providing pinks which played well against the greens of the distance, and finally, the late afternoon light on the mountains.

Names were drawn for different benefits and prizes throughout the convention, and I won a critique with Jove Wang and Kathryn Stats. This is the painting I chose to be critiqued. I was pleased when both gave favorable comments. Click on the painting for a larger version.

The darker painting of the mountain ravine was painted on the last day of the convention, a full day set aside to paint at Picacho Peak State Park. I believe I was the first painter to come into the park, probably because most of the convention attendees had been at the closing party the night before. I backpacked my gear about a half-mile up a trail until this scene presented, with the light just giving a glow in the the crevice between the mountains. I was passed by several hikers and painters later, but only had one four-legged visitor, a salamander who gave me a wary eye for a long time before moving on.

I am very pleased with Desert Mountain Ravine’s hint of early morning light. The sun was above the ridge line, to the left of the picture frame, but only the warmth creeping into the ravine interested me, in contrast to the cool sides of the mountains.


I am back home now, and I am very lucky to live a mere two hours from the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, the regional plein air invitational and paint-out, where I will enjoy a week of demonstrations, learning-lunches, presentations, and receptions. But I will be working this year, participating as one of the six Florida’s Finest Plein Air Ambassadors selected from various parts of the state, who are assigned the task of mentoring plein air novices in one-on-one 2-hour sessions which are offered 3 times a day, for the first 5 days of the event. This will conflict with and prevent me from participating in certain parts of the event, but the experience of the 15 one-on-one sessions of mentoring will be invaluable! There are still 3 slots left in my schedule, if any of my readers are dallying: 2016 Painting Stations (click here).

Later this month, I will make a serious effort at absorbing more marketing information, by participating in the webinars and activities outlined in Art Marketing in a Box, a program produced by Plein Air Magazine. When I first started painting en plein air, 4 years ago, I had planned to spend the first year trying to remember how to mix colors and how to use my brushes. The second year I was going to go to as many workshop[s as I could afford, and in my third year I was going to develop a marketing plan. Developments in my day-job prevented me from devoting the necessary time to my art marketing plan, so I postponed it to this year. I intended to start teaching a few workshops in my fourth year, and that has already started, with one workshop at the Chautauqua Assembly in DeFuniak Springs in January, and now the mentoring sessions I will be doing this week in Apalachicola. I continue to be surprised at how effective that suggestion was when my career coach told me to put my first weekly plein air painting session on the calendar 4 years ago! Thank you, Saramae Dalferes!

Oil painting of potted plants and arbor in a nursery

At left is my impression of one of the colorful plant racks and displays covering the grounds of Clay Garden and Gift Shop, east of Seagrove Beach, where our local plein air painters group met this week. It was a bonanza of light and color, and the paintings of the nine painters attending reflected our ecstasy at being in this “eye-candy store”. The owner has invited us back!

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