Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Every Place Holds a Memory - Penn Valley Plein Air Festival

"The Sun Rises On Barney's Tree" (oil on panel, 16"x20"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.
One of the things I love about experiencing new places is the personal connection that we establish with each and every place we spend time in. When we revisit those places, memories can sometimes come flooding back. This was the case with our recent visit to Kansas City for the Penn Valley Plein Air Festival.

When we lived in Kansas City, we spent almost every waking moment with our two dogs, Barney and Betty. Every morning, rain or shine, snow or ice, we would head across Main Street and visit Penn Valley Park for our morning walks. As we headed up the hill toward the Pioneer Mother Statue, there was one tree that stood out. For me, it was the way the sunrise lit up its upper branches while the trunk still remained in the cool shadow cast by the Federal Reserve Building behind us. For Barney, that tree was his first stop every morning. He marked it every day.

Betty at sunrise on the hill in Penn Valley Park


I had always intended to paint this scene before we sold our home and left Kansas City, but then both Barney and Betty passed away a week apart from each other. They had lived long and happy lives, but age and disease caught up to them. Losing our constant companions of 15 years made it too painful to return to the areas of Penn Valley Park that we had shared together. Last year's plein air festival took place only a month after their passing, and I avoided our morning spot the entire time.

Barney rolling in leaves at Penn Valley Park.

This year, before we even arrived in Kansas City, I had committed myself to painting this spot. I knew what the light would be like. I knew the composition that I wanted. I didn't know how I would feel about the experience.

Thursday morning was cold for early May, but we rose before dawn and headed for the park. As we walked up the hill like we had so many times before, I remembered all the times the dogs had charged forward ahead of us. And there it was - the tree. The light was just beginning to touch its topmost branches, and I quickly set up.

Two crazy dogs patrolling their dog park

As I painted, everything around me brought back memories of the dogs running back and forth, tongues hanging out, sliding through snow in the winter, or rolling through leaves in the fall. This was our place. This scene holds memories for us all, and always will.

- Patrick

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Check Your Rearview - Penn Valley Plein Air

"Edge of the Lake" (oil on panel, 12"x9"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

It was the final morning of the Penn Valley Plein Air Festival, and all of the artists were gathered at 7am for the quick paint at Penn Valley Lake. We had been here before. Last year I had painted a view of the skyline across the lake and the year before that, a tree on the opposite shore.

My paintings from 2015 and 2014.

This morning I walked north to a small footbridge that crossed the creek feeding the lake. I settled on the bridge and set up my gear, considering how I would handle the stones, the water and the surrounding shoreline.

The scene I had originally been planning to paint.

As I finished up my coffee, I looked around the area, waiting for the horn to signal the start of the quick paint, and then I saw it.

The scene behind me.

Although far simpler, for me the scene brought to mind a painting I greatly admired by Dennis Miller Bunker. Weeds and grasses at the edge of the lake, swirling together and reflecting in the water. It would make a much better painting than the one I had been considering, and IT WAS RIGHT BEHIND ME!

I simply picked up my easel and turned it 180 degrees. When the horn blew, I painted quickly and efficiently. As I worked, the sunlight crested the hill and splashed across the scene and lighting up the tips of the tallest grasses. This was the most fun I had painting during the entire festival, and the painting was completed in under an hour.

Painting subjects are everywhere, sometimes even right behind you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

SFA Design: Missouri Wine Country Inspiration

SFA Design: Missouri Wine Country Inspiration: We left San Antonio in April to stay in St. Louis for the Augusta Plein Air Festival . This event is right in the heart of Missouri wine...

Monday, May 2, 2016

"Working" for the Weekend

"Good Morning, Church Road" (oil on panel, 14"x18")
by Patrick Saunders. Photography by Saunders Fine Arts.
At 4am, the alarm started screaming. I lay in bed considering 5 more minutes of sleep, but knew if I did, I would never make it off the mattress. Kimberly and I both rolled out of bed and quickly gathered our gear. It was day 4 of the Augusta Plein Air Festival, and we had decided the night before where we wanted to be for the sunrise.

It was dark out, but warm for late April in St. Louis. As we drove out to Augusta, the sky began to lighten. It's a beautiful drive through rolling hills on a curvy Highway 94. The morning fog lingers in the wine country valleys revealing only the tips of the trees like rocks in a foamy sea.

We turned onto Church Road and entered Augusta proper, pulling onto a gravel drive next to a rustic barn I'm told has been up for sale for the past 12 years. The sun had yet to break the horizon, and in the dim light we walked around the back, admiring the silhouette of the barn in the soft glow of the sky just before the sunrise. Kimberly helped me get setup and then headed around the barn with her camera to explore and shoot.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

I fell in love with the scene. The asymmetrical shape of the building, the offset windows, the hay bales rising out of the tall weeds - even the way the gravel road wrapped itself around the side of the barn created a perfect composition. As I blocked in the dark shapes, the sun rose just beyond, blasting out the tree limbs in the sky. I was lost in the act of painting, and when I noticed Kimberly moving around the property, I could tell that she was wrapped up in her work as well.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts
It was such a peaceful, warm morning, and a reminder of why we do what we do - finding the moments where we both connect with a scene and make memories that last. Being there at the right time when the light is so perfect is like magic. We both felt it.

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

The light changes so quickly at this time of day, and in an hour and a half, it was all over. We packed up the gear, and drove back home. It suddenly hit both of us how exhausted we were. That was an intense couple hours of work, and yet we both felt like we had won the lottery.

Find what you love and do it.

- Patrick