Monday, May 15, 2017

Plein Air KC 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 might 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 Park Lake to a wonderful group of artists 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. Photos by Plein Air KC.

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. - Patrick

© Patrick & Kimberly Saunders, Plein Air Streaming, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, and/or to Saunders Fine Arts for photographs, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Great post! I recently took a workshop and the instructor told everyone the competitions are the worst. I quickly yelled NO, they're great. This is one of the reasons why I think they're so great, learning from the other artists.

    1. I agree Jessica. Some people hate them, but I believe competitions are what you make of them. Win or lose, there's always a lot to learn from your fellow artists.