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

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 ...