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Plein Air Painting: Accepting the Challenge

Plein Air Quickdraw from Forgotten Coast facebook page

I started weekly plein air painting in March.  I’m actually impressed with the progress I have made.  I have enough paintings to have a presence this weekend in the Plein Air Tent at ArtsQuest, the regional juried art festival held annually near my home.

But I have begun to discover how challenging plein air painting can be.  At first I thought I would merely be challenged by the chore of re-learning how to mix colors and remembering how to use brushes.   I also expected that the weather might occasionally be a challenge.  I never anticipated my canvas being covered with water or having to blot up rainwater from my palette tray.  Such was my adventure last Saturday in Port St. Joe, Florida, where I had traveled to watch the “Quickdraw” event at the Forgotten Coast Plein Air Invitational.  My best friend accompanied me, and I tied the stand-up paddleboards, onto the top of my truck, expecting that we’d have time for a little paddling after I had checked out the various artists’ methods and madnesses.  She convinced me that I should bring my paints, but I confess I did so more to humor her than out of any expectation that I would use them.

Port St. Joe Plein Air sceneI changed my mind when we drove past the scenic Cape San Blas lighthouse and down the beautiful peninsula highway to T.H. Stone State Park.  The grassy water’s edge and wading birds were mirrored in the gray water reflecting storm clouds.  There was a 40% chance of rain, but the volunteer who took my $10 entry fee and stamped my blank canvas for the event said the present rain shower wouldn’t be around for long, that it was just a narrow band.  A horn blew, and the painting began, and the rain got worse.  I painted from under the shelter of my truck’s hatch, and my friend stood on the windward side trying to shelter my work.  The rain bouncing off the top of the truck became mist and was caught by the wind,  swirling down onto my canvas and palette.  My friend got soaked and chilled for her good Samaritan efforts.

I had never painted on water-soaked  canvas before.  I had no clue whether my oil paint would even stick to the wet canvas panel.  I kept blotting my canvas with a paper towel to remove some of the mist droplets.  Puddles formed in my palette box.  My waste-bucket that I commandeered from  my cab quickly filled with rainwater pouring through the hinged seam of the hatch.

I dug in and finished my painting in the allotted time.  The 54 participating artists brought their finished pieces to the entry pavilion to be judged.  Many brought frames even.  Probably half of the artists were some who had been invited to the weeklong Plein Air Invitational, so I was privileged to see some amazing work.  Afterwards, we stopped at the first cafe outside the state park, to have a bit to eat, and we were pleasantly surprised to have the winner sit at the table next to ours.  Her name is Morgan Samuel Price.  What a treat to talk with her!!

Today the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters met in the historic town of Grayton Beach, Florida.  I was overwhelmed by the many places I would like to have set up my easel.  It was overchoice!  I opted for a couple of adjoining brightly-colored buildings with reflective windows.

But wow, what a struggle!  The straight up-and-down verticals had to be painted free-hand, as did all of the horizontals receding towards one vanishing point or another. With a general lack of knowledge of how buildings are put together, I was scrambling to make sense of the structure.  Ordinarily, if I were using a building to make art, I would print photographs of  it, and then take some time to figure out the structure before i ever started drawing it and then ultimately painting it.  With plein air painting, I generally just sketch the scene on my canvas with a big brush, and then start trying to mix colors and paint shapes.  So it can get confusing even when the shapes are simple.  I honestly did not have much fun today.  It seemed like too much of a challenge for my present skill level.  I turned out a good painting though, with a fairly good likeness to the colors.  Anyone familiar with Shorty’s Surfside Restaurant will notice that I have taken a few liberties with dimensions.  (As an artist, I’m allowed to do that, ha!)

I enjoyed seeing the other artist’s work when we critiqued at the end of the session.  Several painted the same buildings that I painted, but from different angles or from further away.

Most of my paintings and images are available for purchase.  Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot

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