Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Up Before Dawn

"Bloom, Riviera Marina" (oil on linen, 16"x20")
After a week in paradise, I need a vacation. I was once again back in beautiful Tequesta, Florida for the Lighthouse Art Center's 4th Annual Plein Air Festival. I love everything about this place - perfect weather, beautiful boats, palm trees, but most of all, I love the light.

No matter where we are, the light is always different, and the Atlantic Coast of Florida is no exception. When that sun breaks the horizon in the morning, it's an explosion of color. The sunrise blasts through the clouds and rakes intense warm colors across everything it touches.

"Riverbend Breeze" (oil on linen, 14"x18")

It was for this reason, that I found myself waking each day at 4:30 am, so that I could get where I wanted to be to catch the first rays of the day. The moment lasts for about 15 minutes, and then it's over. I set up in the dim morning twilight, paint in the darks areas and wait to see what the light will do when it arrives. Sometimes, it hits exactly where I expected, and sometimes the entire theme of a picture changes.

I had no idea that the clouds would reflect so prominently in the water as I began painting this scene in Port Salerno. "The Sky In Port" (oil on linen, 14"x18").

That's not to say that I don't paint during the height of the day. Sometimes some very quirky scenes present themselves. I find myself painting all day. Who says the life of a painter is easy?

This suddenly happened. I only had a matter of minutes to capture the scene.
"Winter, Juno Beach" (oil on linen, 12"x16")



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Variety

Photos by Saunders Fine Arts.
When I tell someone I've just met that I'm a painter, they often ask "what do you paint?" My answer is always the same - "Everything."

Variety in subject matter is essential to any representational painter wishing to further their skills. There are painters known for landscapes, portraits, flowers, nocturnes, dogs, or even "painters of light." Painting only one subject can quickly make an artist's work formulaic and eventually devolve into a gimmick. It's natural for us to find "rules" that govern our approach to painting certain subjects, but in so doing it's also easy to drift away from painting what we actually see. When faced with a challenging subject, we tend to fall back on the rules rather than truly painting the scene before us.

The choice to be or not to be formulaic is a personal one, and many great artists utilize formula to create beautiful and moving works, but it can be limiting. A new formula is required for each and every subject. I know many landscape painters who are afraid to paint portraits and portrait painters who are afraid to paint landscapes. How is painting a landscape any different than a portrait? Aren't they both just a collection of shapes, values and colors laid out in a specific pattern that creates the illusion of the physical world?

It's easy to fall back on the shorthand our brain creates for everything around us. We remind ourselves that eyes are a certain distance apart, flowers are made of petals or that water reflects, but these things do not always visually appear the way we think they should. When we rely on the "formula," paintings can become disjointed, as we might have a clear understanding of the thing we're painting in one portion of the canvas but not in another.

Painting a variety of subjects can improve the ability to paint what one actually sees, as it forces us to confront the unknown which we do not have a formula or shorthand for. Forget that you're painting a face, or a tree, or a flower. Paint shapes defined by differences in value, edges and color. Every subject should be approached the same way.

In my own work, I tend to go through periods of painting different subjects, and when I shift gears the effects are astonishing. Last winter I painted a number of portrait studies at the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts in San Antonio, Texas. That experience provided me with a tremendous improvement in accuracy - which is required to capture a likeness. The nine months that followed was spent painting landscapes on the plein air circuit. It's very easy to stylize a landscape without the painting looking inaccurate, but stylization can also create issues when elements such as architecture are added. The practice of painting portraits made it much easier for me to quickly and accurately capture the landscape before me, whatever it consisted of. Now, I'm once again painting portrait studies at the Coppini, and I can now see the effect landscape painting has had on my portraits. My brushwork is more exciting, colors are more varied and the compositions are far more spontaneous.

In reality, I may be painting a variety of subjects, but in approach the variety is only in shapes, values, edges and colors. - Patrick

Sunday, January 8, 2017

SFA Design: Miles and Mountains and Bears Oh My

SFA Design: Miles and Mountains and Bears Oh My: I have a thing about bears just like I have a thing about sharks. After Paint Annapolis, we headed for the Allegheny Mountain Range ...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year of the Dogs

Some of the wonderful dogs we met in 2016.
All reference and paintings photographed by Saunders Fine Arts.

The year of the dog is not until February of 2018 according to the Chinese zodiac, but 2016 was a big year for dog paintings for me. It seems that almost every place we visited this year, there was a dog we fell in love with that I had to paint.

Pets are not only one of my favorite subjects to paint, but also Kimberly’s favorite to photograph. It’s one of the subjects we collaborate on best. It’s rare that any pet will agree to a sitting, but they do love the attention of a photo shoot. Kimberly is great at capturing their personalities, after years spent photographing literally thousands of shelter and rescue pets for adoption at various shelters and rescues across the country. She has photographed not just dogs and cats, but birds, rabbits, and many other small animals, even a snake or two. Her wonderful photos make capturing any pet’s likeness in paint almost effortless.

Dog Portraits by Kimberly Saunders of Saunders Fine Arts

There’s something about the joy in a dog’s face that brings a smile to mine the entire time I work on their portraits. We lost our own beloved dogs and cats in the last two years, due to old age and illness, so 2016 was our first year without any of them. Painting the pets of others brings back memories of all the great moments we shared with our fur kids over the years. Looking forward to meeting, photographing and painting many more four legged friends in 2017. - Patrick Saunders

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

16 Together In 2016

2016 was the busiest year of my life. Together, Kimberly and I traveled from coast to coast, border to border, through 30 States, attending 16 plein air events. I have to stress that word "together," as I couldn't have done this alone. After completing around 150 paintings, I have to say I'm better for it, but DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ALONE. Without a lot of support, I would have lost my way.

While I'm painting, Kimberly is busy shooting her own work, and we usually find inspiration in the same locations and each other's work. It's great to be able to get a fresh perspective at a moment's notice.

Our first event of the year was Lighthouse Plein Air Festival in Tequesta, Florida. This was my first opportunity to paint boats of any kind, and I must admit I fell in love with it. There's something about the structure of a boat - the curves of the hull, the lines of the masts and rigging - and the balance created by the reflections in the water that add a sense of excitement to a painting. While my compositions started with single boats, I found more challenge and satisfaction in painting groupings as the year progressed. It's easy to get lost in the more complicated compositions, and there were many times when I considered wiping out a painting while Kimberly encouraged me to continue.

My 2016 progression of boats. Photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

In April, we attended the Outdoor Painters Society's Plein Air Southwest Salon in Dallas, where a paint out was held in a local park. I chose to paint a beautiful old tree at the edge of the water. Trees have always been a challenging subject for me, and I had never painted one that I felt satisfied with. Similar to my experience with the boats, Kimberly encouraged me to keep moving forward. That morning, everything felt right. It was the first time I achieved what I set out to accomplish in painting a tree. I was honored that the painting went on to win the Artist's Choice Award that day.

Some of the trees of 2016. Photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

After returning to a number of events and workshop opportunities in the Midwest that we had first experienced in 2015, we spent two months on the East Coast - Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and New York, and I was fortunate to be able to participate in some of the country's most premier plein air events. It was my first time at Plein Air Easton, Easels in Frederick, Plein Air Richmond, and more. Museum visits in D.C. and New York for inspiration, and two visits to the Dog Fish Brewery made for a memorable trip. It always helps to have someone suggest what to submit for award consideration, and thanks again to Kimberly, some pieces that I would have overpainted won.

Some of the award winners from the East Coast portion of our trip.
Photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

Heading west, we attended the Door County Plein Air Festival for the first time. I hadn't been to Door County since I was a child, and this was Kimberly's first visit. The event covers a very large area, and while I worked on one painting, Kimberly was out exploring and photographing, letting me know if another small town had what I wanted to paint.

"Unintended Garden" (oil on panel, 16"x20"). An example of the abundant Queen Anne's Lace.
Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

We traveled all the way to Olympic National Park and beyond to Cape Flattery, the northwestern most point of the continental US to attend the Paint the Peninsula event. Neither of us had ever been to the area before, and we were blown away by the beauty. Driving to locations often took hours, and it was far more enjoyable and safer to experience together.

"Above & Below the Sol Duc" (oil on panel, 14"x18").
Winner of the Olympic Rangers Interpretation Award at Paint the Peninsula.
Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

After driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with the Airstream in tow (stopping in Sonoma, San Francisco, Laguna Beach and Palm Springs) we headed east again.

Painting our way down the West Coast. Photos by Saunders Fine Arts.

On our first visit to the Sedona Plein Air Festival, we were introduced to Jerome, Arizona - one of the most charming towns we have experienced. The view's not bad either.

"Hillside History, Jerome" (oil on panel, 16"x20). Best of Show at Sedona Plein Air Festival.
Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Our last event of the year, and by far the most successful yet, was En Plein Air Texas. Great food, people and places to paint!

"Mustang Sally's" (oil on panel, 12"x16"). Second Place Award at EnPleinAirTexas. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Looking back, I have to admit that I was intimidated by the thought of so many events in one year. I didn't know if I could pull off the grueling schedule. With each new painting, I didn't know if I could achieve what I set out to capture - and I must admit that many times I didn't. But with success or failure, I gained confidence. We kept each other excited about what the next event, the next town, and the next day would bring. I can look back and see the growth in my work. There are paintings I'm proud of and paintings I'm embarrassed by. Even so, with each new challenge, and Kimberly's constant help, I moved forward. Everybody needs their artistic confidant. Kimberly is mine.

I'm ready for more in 2017. - Patrick

P.S. I'm sure you'll get Kimberly's perspective on these events in her upcoming blog post.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Trying New Things: Paint Annapolis

"Morning After the Holiday" (oil on board, 16"x20") by Patrick Saunders. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

As the unofficial kickoff to our East Coast tour, The Maryland Federation of Art's Paint Annapolis was as good a place as any for us to try some new things and expand our comfort zone. Kimberly wrote about some of her own experiences on her blogpost "Yaaahhhr Not Fraahhm Maaaahhhhland, Ahhhhhrr Yaah?", and I stretched myself as a painter as well.

After spending Memorial Day scouting the area, we headed to Herrington Harbour North Marina Resort early Tuesday morning just before sunrise. I had painted my first boats during the Lighthouse Plein Air Festival in March, but this was a much more complicated subject - multiple boats and a completely overcast day. I decided to embrace the challenge and get moving.

About a half an hour in, I thought I was in serious trouble.

I almost gave up after only half an hour. I felt like I was rapidly getting lost in the painting. There was just so much going on, and I was desperately trying to make sense of it. Kimberly, who had been off capturing some beautiful photos of the scene, came to check on me. As is usually the case, she had a fresh eye on the situation. She encouraged me to keep going. I knew that I had to change my approach. At that point, I was no longer painting sailboats, I was painting shapes, colors and values, as if I was assembling a puzzle. The rest came together quickly, and it was a breakthrough painting for me - one that I still look back on. Don't paint "things" and keep moving forward. "Morning After the Holiday" even won an award.

That evening, the nocturne paint out was scheduled. I had PRK surgery back in 2007, and while my daytime vision is better than it has ever been, I have trouble with colors and values at night. Painting at night scares the hell out of me, but I decided to give it a shot. We set up with a great angle on the Maryland Inn. While we waited for the sun to set, I made a mental note that I should come back and capture this scene at sunset (which I did). As night fell, I started painting.

A confident start. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

At first, things went very well. I blocked in the image with some strong value changes between the architecture and sky. I liked the mood that was quickly set by the piece. As I started to add more subtle color and value changes, I felt like I was loosing it. Once again, Kimberly was there to encourage me to keep going. I was able to finish, but I was not happy with the result and considered painting over the finished piece. It just wasn't what I had expected it to be.

"Night Falls On the Maryland Inn" (oil on panel, 12"x16).
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have a constant confidant in your life. Kimberly and I can be each other's biggest critics, but we also encourage each other and provide that fresh eye that's needed in moments of self doubt. Despite all of my whining and self pity, she convinced me to submit my nocturne painting for judging, and once again, she was right. The painting took a second place nocturne award. In the video below, it's hard to hear me tell the story and thank Kimberly for all of her support and encouragement, but at the end you can clearly hear the judge say "Now you have to do everything she says." Yes, I do.


The next day, we headed out to Historic London Town and Gardens for a more relaxing day in my comfort zone. I found a nice shady spot and painted one of my favorite subjects, flowers.

"Pink Azaleas In the Glade" (oil on panel, 9"x12"). Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Painted at Historic London Town and Gardens. A bit of a breaking for me during the event.

At sunset we went back to the Maryland Inn, so I could capture the scene. I have to admit that attempting this at night made this painting seem effortless by comparison.

"In the Shadow of St. Anne's" (oil on panel, 12"x16"). Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

One of my goals for the year as a plein air painter was to paint larger. I'd moved from 12"x16" to 14"x18" during the Augusta Plein Air Festival and went up to 16"x20" a few weeks prior at Penn Valley Plein Air. I finally felt ready to go to 18"x24". Kimberly dropped me off at the US Naval Academy, and I wandered the grounds with all of my materials. It's an incredibly beautiful campus, and I was having a difficult time deciding what to paint when I suddenly saw the clouds reflected in one of the stained glass windows of the Chapel and knew I had found my subject. As I painted, a number of academy personal stopped to chat, informing me that this particular window of the chapel is known as Admiral Farragut's Window, dedicated to David Glasgow Farragut, the first rear admiral, vice admiral and admiral in the United States Navy. It sits directly above the entrance to the crypt of John Paul Jones. This was my largest plein air painting to date, and while I don't know if it was completely successful, I was happy to have once again tried something new.

"The Sky In Admiral Farragut's Window" (oil on panel, 18"x24").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

The quick draw was held on the final day of the event. I found a sandbagger sloop known as the "Bull" moored at the dock in front of the National Sailing Hall of Fame. It was a gorgeous sailboat, but I just couldn't find an angle that I liked in combination with the background. Finally, I set up behind the boat. I knew that this would be extremely difficult from a perspective standpoint, but I decided to keep going with the theme and once again try something new. I used everything I'd experienced during the week and just went for it. A few hours later, and I was satisfied. I was very surprised and honored when the painting won the People's Choice Award.

"The Flag On the Bull" (oil on panel, 9"x12"). Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

I can't say that I approach any event or any painting expecting to push my boundaries - it just happens. That's another benefit of this lifestyle and this approach to painting. There are so many unknowns and uncontrollable factors that pop up that you just have to find a way to move forward. It also helps when you have someone to say "keep going," and you should always listen to her. - Patrick

Thursday, September 29, 2016