Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Consider This A Rock 'N' Roll Song ... Or Heavy Metal"

An in progress shot of "Like Stained Glass" (oil on canvas, 19"x28"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

It was actually punk rock I was listening to as I painted at this year's Plein Air Easton Festival. I believe judge West Fraser's comment "You might consider this a rock 'n' roll song ... or heavy metal" was referring to the energy of the brushstrokes in my painting "Like Stained Glass." His remarks regarding the work of the festival overall compared painting to music, and I have to completely agree. This year, I did my best to get into a comfortable groove.




It was a hot one, and Kimberly and I made the decision to start each day early to beat the heat. You also can't beat the beauty of the early morning light, just before and just after the sunrise.

Our view each morning. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Fuel to set the morning tempo.
The great staff at the Avalon Theater
got us moving every morning with Rise Up Coffee.

The first paint out was at Tilghman Island, and we arrived at 5:30 am. The sun had not yet crested the horizon, which made for some beautifully subtle colors. I had painted in this marina last year, and after being sprayed with grass from a riding lawnmower by a salty sea captain who wasn't happy about my presence, this year I opted to set up on the concrete. If we hadn't arrived early, I would have boiled, but by 9 a.m., the painting was complete. Now to find some air conditioning!

"Before the Heat, Knapps Narrows" (oil on linen, 14"x18"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Friday was orientation day, and since a storm was scheduled to roll in that afternoon, I opted to scout locations rather than paint. We also made time to head over to Delaware for our annual Dogfish Head Brewery visit. It's all about the groove, remember?

Saturday morning, we started out early once again. One of the memories that had stuck with me from last year's competition was the way light shines through the many tree lines in the area, especially at sunrise and sunset. I wanted to capture this, and I found it on the Calhoon M.E.B.A. Engineering School campus. We had our coffee, I had my tunes, and I settled right into painting. The effects of the sunrise didn't last long, so my paint application came through with more energy than usual.



Saturday evening was the welcome dinner. The event was held on a beautiful property with an amazing car collection. I'm not a car painter, but I'm always open to new challenges. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to paint a classic Corvette.

My first car portrait. Sorry, it sold so fast, I only have this iPhone shot.

Sunday was the paint out in Oxford. Keeping the groove going, Kimberly and I arrived at 6 a.m., and I set up at the Hinckley Yacht Services Marina. These iconic boats are unbelievable. I painted one here last year (my first year of painting boats), and I wanted to revisit the subject. The lines of the hulls, the masts - they all make for an exciting composition.

One of my favorite places to paint.

"Hinckley Yacht Marina" (oil on linen, 14"x18"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

When I say I was in the groove, maybe that works not only with painting, but with karma. After finishing the painting, I set down my backpack next to our truck while I popped the canvas into a frame for safekeeping. I closed up the back of the truck, and Kimberly and I drove off to grab some breakfast. An hour later, when I dropped off my painting for the day's exhibit, I was asked if I knew anyone who was missing a backpack filled with art supplies. At the same time, I received a message on my phone from the event organizers - "Don't freak out if you lost your backpack, we found it!" And there it was in the corner - my backpack. I had left it next to the truck after framing the painting and driven away. I didn't freak, because I never even noticed. The groove continues.

On Monday, I found some beautiful purple hydrangeas that made me nervous to even consider capturing, so naturally I decided to paint them. Put on the headphones. Get lost in the music. Get lost in the composition. A short time later, and I was thrilled with the outcome. I set the painting down on the tailgate of the truck and reached over it to grab a frame. It was then that I noticed a complete reversed image of the painting on my t-shirt. It made contact with the entire painting as I leaned over it! Panic! But wait, after close inspection, I realized that the original was relatively unharmed. My shirt hadn't wiped the piece, only pressed downward on it. I just added a couple of the thicker strokes back in, and it was back in the groove.

An in progress shot.

"Burst" (oil on linen, 6"x8"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Tuesday looked to be yet another hot one. Time to try something new. Plein Air Easton allows interior paintings, something I had yet to attempt. Kimberly and I went to the Tidewater Inn, where I was allowed to set up in their Skipjack Bar. I really liked the light in the room, loved the air conditioning, and to top it all off, they have Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA on tap. A steady stream of lunch patrons came and went as I painted. It was the most laid back painting experience of the entire festival.


Painting at the Skipjack. Yes, that's Dogfish on tap.
Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

"Tidewater Refuge" (oil on linen, 18"x24"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Wednesday night, Harrison Street was closed down at 8:30 p.m. so that we could set up in the street and paint nocturnes. Night painting makes me nervous because of past eye surgery. I had only attempted it once before, last year in Annapolis, but Kimberly kept encouraging me to give it another shot. Time to try again. I chose to paint the Avalon Theater. Lots of lights inside and out. The painting went better than I expected and was sold before I even finished.

"Avalon Noir" (oil on linen, 12"x16"). My second nocturne ever. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Thursday was framing and turn in time, followed by a relaxing evening.

Friday was the big opening. It was another wonderful show with so many great paintings. I was honored to receive the Imagine Two Futures Award for my painting "Like Stained Glass." The show continued through Sunday, and I was even more pleased to find that every painting I created that week found a home. Rock 'n' roll, heavy metal, punk rock? Doesn't matter. I was in the groove all week and had a wonderful time.

"Like Stained Glass" (oil on canvas, 19"x28"). Winner of the Imagine Two Futures Award.
Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Try & Try Again: Plein Air Richmond

"A Window On Bentley's Backyard" (oil on linen, 18"x24").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

Now that we're in our second year on the road and returning to some of the same places as last year, I do my best to try new things and paint new subjects everywhere we go. Most of the time, there are so many cool places to paint, that I can be quickly overwhelmed with what to choose. I rarely if ever return to the same subject. While that was mostly true at this year's Plein Air Richmond, there was one exception.

We were fortunate to stay with the same wonderful hosts as the previous year, and I once again found myself drawn to the view just outside our window. It was the back of their home, featuring a beautiful staircase descending into their backyard. I had attempted to paint the scene a year before, and must admit that I had failed miserably. I was overwhelmed by the architecture and all of the competing elements, and after spending hours on the painting, I gave up. I had no intention of even attempting it again.

"A Peek At the Jame" (oil on linen, 16"x20").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

This year, I decided to start with the James River. The James River features beautiful rock formations emerging from the water, and I was drawn to the view of the river through the trees of Pony Pasture Park. We arrived just before dawn, and I was able to catch the sun as it broke above the trees on the opposite bank. The painting became more about the seclusion of the park than the openness of the river, and after experiencing the tranquil nature of the park, I liked that point of view.

A storm rolled in late morning, so we decided to leave the park. The forecast was for storms to continue all day, but the storm broke and the sun returned just after noon. We expected the sun to be short-lived, but I decided to take advantage of it. With encouragement from Kimberly, I set up just outside of our host home and decided to take another shot at the backyard stairs. I told myself, this was just for practice and expected the rain to end my attempt before things got out of hand.

As I painted, I was soon joined by Dudley, one of the dogs we met last year. Dudley lay at my feet and quickly fell asleep. That brought out Bentley, Dudley's bigger brother. Every morning, Bentley seemed to forget that he had guests and proceeded to bark in alarm at us. By the end of each day, he warmed up to us, but the next morning the cycle started again. This early in the day, Bentley was still wary of me, but he needed to make sure that I wasn't messing with Dudley. He laid down just ten feet from me to keep watch, and it was an amazing stroke of luck. Now I was excited about this painting. It was suddenly more than just a practice piece. I focused exclusively on Bentley for the next 25 minutes, knowing that he might leave at any moment.

"Bentley & Dudley" (oil on canvas, 12"x16").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

The rain held off for another hour, but not long enough for me to finish the painting. I returned at the same time the following day and was able to finish off all the areas of the piece that I had neglected in order to add the dog.

I was torn about the finished piece. It was very different from everything I had done in the past.

The following afternoon, I decided to paint along Monument Avenue for some familiarity. I had painted one of the large homes the previous year, but this time I decided to try something different and focus in only on the front door and porch.

"A Formal Porch" (oil on linen, 14"x18").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

Thursday, we were invited to paint at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. I've painted a lot of flowers, and I was looking for something new. I found it in the conservatory. Orchids. A lot of orchids. I had never painted orchids before, so this was yet another new challenge. I had so much fun with the first, that I painted a second that same morning.


"Orchids At the Conservatory" (oil on linen, 14"x18").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

"Emerging Orchids" (oil on linen, 12"x16").
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

That evening, I delivered my paintings to the gallery for the final show. Out of all of my paintings, I could only pick two for the official judging. My first choice was "A Peek at the James." After that, I decided to take a chance on "A Window On Bentley's Backyard." After the extra work, it seemed like it deserved a chance.

The next evening was the biggest surprise of all. "A Window On Bentley's Backyard" was awarded Best In Show. Sometimes trying again pays off.

- Patrick

Patrick at the final show.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Waiting for the Sun - Buck's County Plein Air Festival

"The Farm On York" (oil on linen, 14"x18"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

We spent a mostly cloudy week at the Buck's County Plein Air Festival, but when the sun finally did peak through, it made all the difference. The forecast was for overcast skies until Thursday, so when we struck out on Monday afternoon, I was looking for some high contrast subjects to paint.

We started in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a charming town filled with picturesque homes. From down the street, one house in particular caught our eyes. Its purple shutters made it stand out from the others around it. I set up across the street, and despite the occasional rain, got to work. As I painted, the sky continued to darken, and the threat of a more torrential downpour forced me to stop. I left feeling that the painting was flat and uninspired.

Painting in progress, before the sun made an appearance.

The next morning was more of the same weather, so Kimberly and I again searched for a subject that would lend itself to this type of lighting. We found it in Cuttalossa Farm, the former home of impressionist painter Daniel Garber. The farm is located in a deep valley, and the dense trees bounce the available light around, giving everything a beautiful cool green glow. Even on the wet, rainy morning we were there, the scene held a peaceful tranquility.

Cuttalossa Farm - photo by Saunders Fine Arts

I chose to paint the sheep barn on the property. I liked the way it fell back into the darkness of the trees, while the intense green of the algae on the water led the eye right to it.

"Cuttalossa Farm" (oil on linen, 18"x24"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

That afternoon, I decided to return to the painting I had begun in Newtown. After another hour of struggling in the gloomy weather, the sun finally made a brief appearance. This was all it needed. The light on the roof, tree and bushes added all of the depth that I felt it had been missing.

"Mercer & Congress" (oil on linen, 16"x20"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The forecast for Thursday morning was finally for sun, but not for long. We had driven past a beautiful horse barn the previous afternoon, and I had a feeling that it would look great once the light finally hit. I arrived at 5 a.m. and waited for the sunrise. I was not disappointed. With all of the moisture in the air, the colors were intense. The light outlined the forms, and the painting came together in only a couple of hours.

Shortly after I finished, the sun decided to leave us once more. Kimberly and I chose to return to Cuttalossa Farm. Not only was the barn beautiful, but I wanted a crack at the tree line. The trees at the edge of the forest had a bone like quality that made them pop out from the rest of the foliage. It was yet another peaceful afternoon.

"Bones" (oil on linen, 16"x20"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.
Cuttalossa Farm Shed - photo by Saunders Fine Arts
Friday morning (the first full day of sun) was turn in time for all of our paintings. That evening at the awards ceremony, I was honored to receive third place for "The Farm On York."

3rd Place for "The Farm On York." Photo by D. J. Kane Photography.

Saturday morning was also a beautiful sun filled day, and the day of the quick draw. Buck's County Plein Air has a true quick draw, clocking in at only an hour and a half. After a week of searching for the form on gray days, the bright sun made painting a pleasure. I was able to complete my painting in only 45 minutes, and was awarded third place. The sun makes all the difference.

Finished - 45 minutes into the quick draw. Photo courtesy of Laurie Paola Rubinetti.

"Tyler Turret" (oil on linen, 12"x16"). 3rd Place at the quick draw.





Monday, May 15, 2017

A Different Perspective, Three Years Later

Phil Starke and I with my painting, a bulky easel and a bad sunburn in 2014. 

Three years ago, I participated in one of my earliest quick paint events. This was at the 2014 Penn Valley Plein Air Festival. Kimberly and I still lived in Kansas City at the time, and I had only been plein air painting for a matter of months. I lugged my heavy French easel over to the park and set up facing into the setting sun, with no thought about what that my do to my face (I was bright red the next day). I chose my angle based on composition, and I have to admit that was the only reason for my choice. I was lucky enough to be awarded a purchase award at that quick paint, thanks to judge Phil Starke. I was thrilled with the award, but looking back, I think I was lacking something in my approach.

Painting a demonstration at my Monday workshop, Penn Valley Lake.
Photo by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

Three years later, and we're back in Kansas City for the now renamed Plein Air KC. After teaching a workshop at Penn Valley Lake to a wonderful group of students on Monday (with sunscreen and a canopy), I was asked to judge the quick paint at the Firefighter Memorial on Tuesday evening. As I was not painting, I was able to walk around throughout the event and watch the other painters work. This is not something I normally have the opportunity to do, and it's a real treat to see the different approaches of all of the artists. What I also saw was how difficult judging was going to be.


Ready for judging.

There were a number of paintings that had nice compositions, and were well executed, but I felt that many of the pieces went further. They told a story, something I realize I had yet to apply to plein air painting when my experience had begun only a few years earlier. There was a sense of place, but also a sense of meaning for the memorial and what it stood for. The paintings had a sense of depth and commitment that honored the firefighters in the same way the memorial itself did. The story came not only through the artists' choice of viewpoint, but also from the application of paint and color.

Talking art at the Plein Air KC Firefighter Memorial Quick Paint.

Paintings are more than pretty pictures, and good plein air is more than technique. As we continue this journey, I only hope that my own work can convey a deeper sense of meaning and storytelling about the places we visit and our experiences in those places.



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Capturing Cotter, Rain and Shine


My father was a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, and he often cited their unofficial motto, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." You could say a similar mantra applies to plein air painters.

I was invited to Cotter, Arkansas, for the 2017 Plein Air on the White River Festival. Once there, I would be providing a workshop and judging the competition. We expected a short trip to Cotter from St. Louis after the Augusta Plein Air Festival, but four days of rain across Missouri threw all travel plans into chaos.

While the rains were heavy when we departed St. Louis, the roads didn't appear to be an issue. We hopped onto I-44 West, only to find out later that we had barely made it out of the city on a highway that would soon shut down in front of us and behind us.

I-44 at Highway 141 on the southwest side of St. Louis.
This was shortly after we passed through the area.

Shortly after leaving St. Louis, the rains let up, and we assumed the worst had passed. We made a quick stop at a bank in Pacific, MO. A reminder, even though the rains had stopped at that time, the rivers continue to flow. While Pacific was dry when we passed through, a check of the news later that day showed that it was under water as well.

The town of Pacific. I swear it was dry when we left it.

As we continued west, a number of emergency signs along the highway informed us that I-44 was shut down just past Rolla, MO. We knew we would need an alternate route, and so we chose to head south on highway 63. By this time, the sun was breaking through occasionally, and everything was looking good. After an hour of driving, we crested a hill to find that the highway was gone.

63 South. You can't get there from here.

We backtracked all the way to Mountain Grove, Missouri, and headed south on Highway 95. Once again, it was not meant to be. After winding our way south for an hour, 95 ended with a washed out highway just south of Gentryville. So we went further west to Ava, Missouri, and headed south on Highway 5.

A gas station attendant in Squires told us that the town of Gainesville (just south of us) had been underwater the night before, but with no other options, we continued onward to see for ourselves. It is the Show Me State, after all. When we reached Gainesville, we were lucky to find that the waters had receded, an we could continue onward. After six hours, we made it to Cotter.

My workshop began the next morning, and despite the weather reports of a mild 60 degree day, it didn't make it past the 40s until the afternoon. I always start with a demonstration painting, and as this was a plein air class, I was not about to let the weather change my plans. I painted just outside the doors of the building where the class met, while many of the students watched through the building windows. I can't say that I blame them!

Patrick's day one demonstration painting.

Tuesday was perfect, and I held my demonstration down by the banks of the White River. After all of that rain, the landscape was lush with green.

Patrick demonstrating on day two of the workshop. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Patrick's day two demonstration painting.

That evening, Kimberly and I explored the charming town of Cotter, including the beautiful R. M. Ruthven Bridge, built in 1930.

"Cotter Bridge At Sunset" by Kimberly at Saunders Fine Arts.

Just in time for my public painting demonstration on Wednesday, the rains returned in full force. While I could have once again braved the elements and painted outdoors, for the sake of the audience, I chose a photograph as my subject. I used it as an opportunity to show how to approach painting from photography with the same energy as plein air.

Patrick's third demonstration.
"The Grove" (oil on linen, 12"x16"). Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

The rest of the week could not have been more perfect. The quick draw was held on Friday evening, and the final show was held on Saturday. The paintings in the final show ran the weather gamut. Paintings of sun filled subjects hung next to images of rain soaked landscapes. Plein air painters will not be deterred. My congratulations to all of the artists who braved the weather and captured the beauty of Northern Arkansas in all of its iterations.

Thank you to the Ozark Regional Arts Council, The White River Artists and especially the wonderful artist Dana Johnson for making all of this possible.

Patrick judging the final show. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Sea of Green In Augusta, Missouri

Patrick teaching at one of his Augusta Plein Air Festival workshops. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts.

We just finished up a beautiful weekend of workshops in Augusta, MO as part of the Augusta Plein Air Festival. After a few weeks of spring rains, the view in every direction is green, green and green. We spent the majority of the classes discussing all of these variations of green and how to bring out the subtle differences in a painting.

I'm always amazed with the way color themes change as we travel around the country. In Sedona, it's reds. In Kansas, it's yellows and golds. In Florida, it's blues and turquoise. The differences are sometimes subtle, but often dramatic. For me, this journey through color themes is akin to a change of seasons, one that gives us as much variety as the journey from summer to winter.

- Patrick


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