Somehow the entire pre-Labor Day summer has passed by, and it seems a good time to sit back, on a now almost fall-dark evening (I am ruing the loss of light already, yes), and do a bit of writing about what the summer was like. It was saturated with painting, with deadlines, and traveling. With preparations for show openings, the actual openings, with cardboard, frame orders, bubble wrap, mailings, emails, writing publicity for the gallery, order posters, harvesting plants for centerpieces, cooking and enjoying the company of fellow artists. Exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, a combination of careful planning and hard work. In truth, that encapsulates the year! But to summer, and painting outdoors....
Plein air painting has had a real resurgence over the last decade. What is plein air painting? My husband always tells me I speak of it like everyone knows what I'm talking about. Don't they? Maybe not! Simply put, it's painting outside, living in and capturing the moment as you see it, or at least how you interpret what you're seeing. From a person who took yoga for years, it's probably one of the best real-life examples of "living in the moment" that I can think of.
So what's it like? Many people have the perception of painters heading off to a friendly little spot and having some peaceful zen-like moments with their subject and medium, and yes, that can certainly happen. But, the reality is more complicated. When you're taking part in a festival, you have a finite time to chose a compelling subject, get your composition right, and then do all of the things that go into making a piece of art that is worth putting in a frame and selling. And you don't do just one painting, but many. I did seven during the four painting days of the August festival, framed them and hung them at the show. During that time, there was torrential rain, rumors of a rabid fox in the area I had set up in (which I quickly left!), and many opportunities to connect with artists I sometimes see only at these types of events. It becomes like an "old home" week, and it is really amazing and fun to see the paintings that are produced during that short span of time, and to compare experiences with those other artists.
This year's summer festival featured a nocturne contest (paintings of night-time scenes), which spawned a host of nocturne paintings. Usually there are one or two in a festival. This year there were probably close to sixty. Yes, sixty! Not only was the town of Saranac Lake inundated with painters during the day, but in the words of one of my fellow painters, we were all "lurking" about town into the wee hours! Headlamps on, or painting under street lamps, the paintings were fun to do.
Going to a remote location to paint (not in town but in rugged wilderness) is another sort of experience, and a visitor to a gallery that saw the early morning painting I did before a heavy all-day rain, said he could sense the urgency in the painting. Indeed, there are raindrops on it, and it was a challenge to get the essence of it on the paper before the rain started to fall. I used the rocks for an easel, and the ground for a taboret, perched on the cliffside, watching the falls. It was also my birthday, so I was talking to family while working. Amazing that the cell phone worked there! It's the "Split Rock Falls" painting in my Landscape section.
We also had a two-hour challenge on Saturday, and my painting, "River Walk" was done during that time. The painting that opens this blog section was the second one of the second day--the third overall. The photo of the easel set up (looking very small) was from the first painting location that day ("Rob's Fishing Hole" painting). The feet of it were in mud, so I found some bark to put them on so it wouldn't continue to sink while I was painting! And yes, Rob was there fishing. Total stranger and his family that I connected with and he was delighted that his name would grace the painting.
If you're a studio artist who's never been outside to paint--get on out there! You may find a new thing to love about painting--that meshing of nature with the rest of your senses--and the interesting things that happen on your canvas when you're immersed in your subject. If you're an art collector, plein air paintings are like a glass of wine--the atmosphere and experience are captured right there on the canvas, to be savored and enjoyed.
The next plein air event coming up is in October, at Olana, Frederic Church's historic Hudson home. The fall colors should be lovely, and this will be my third time doing a festival there. I love it, and feel privileged to paint on the grounds of the Master's home.