On Plein Air Festivals

Early this year, I set a goal for myself to attend more plein air events. I really get inspired by the dedication and motivation of other painters, and now that my daughter is getting a little older, my husband and I agreed that the time was right for me to try and participate in plein air painting in a more intentional way.

“Down By the Boathouse” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 8x10. Painted during Plein Air Unleased, 2019, with Allure Art Center (SOLD.)

“Down By the Boathouse” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 8x10. Painted during Plein Air Unleased, 2019, with Allure Art Center (SOLD.)

I also really just wanted to see if I would enjoy a taste of the festival “lifestyle”. I have met quite a few painters who “do the circuit”, traveling from event to event, and participating in as many as 10 or more a year across the country. It’s pretty impossible for me to do that, and frankly, I’m not sure I would really want to even if I could. Even so, I wanted to test my own limits and see what I was capable of, in an environment that really motivated me to push my boundaries.

“Drifting Shadows” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x24”. Painted during Plein Air Floyd 2019.

“Drifting Shadows” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x24”. Painted during Plein Air Floyd 2019.

Painting at these festivals can be pretty intense, and some are quite competitive. Even in the less competitive ones, there is still a feeling of underlying urgency, a compelling sense, at least to me, to seize the moment while I have the chance. It is a time of high focus and concentration. Not only are you often living out of your car and suitcase a lot of the day, you have to have a certain amount of physical stamina to stand on your feet from morning to night and survive on a subsistence of power bars and electrolyte drinks if the situation (and the best light of the day) calls for it. You also have to fight off the mosquitoes and ticks and various other critters (like snakes or even black bears, in some instances!) all the while trying to paint something peaceful or inspirational or exciting or otherwise awesome. Even so, I had seen my friends and associates post on social media about their fabulous trips to this place or that, all of the people they met and networked with, and I started to wonder what I might have been “missing.”

“Evening Falls on Storker’s Knob,” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x16”. Painted during Plein Air Floyd 2019.

“Evening Falls on Storker’s Knob,” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x16”. Painted during Plein Air Floyd 2019.

Because my daughter is still in primary school and my husband only has so much flexibility with work, I focused on applying to the regional festivals within a few hours’ driving distance of my home, in case I was urgently needed on the home front. Luckily for me, each year there seem to be more and more festivals to choose from; Virginia alone has more than I could reasonably attend in a season.

“Village Life” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 10x10” (SOLD). Painted during Plein Air Floyd, 2019.

“Village Life” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 10x10” (SOLD). Painted during Plein Air Floyd, 2019.

There are many very well-publicized festivals where the focus tends to be on competitions and big prizes. The festivals I attended were less focused on competition. Though a couple did offer prizes, the overall mood was easy-going, with a focus on community and the promotion of the art of plein air painting. I really loved this kind of festival.

“Morning Glory” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 11x14”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

“Morning Glory” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 11x14”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

These events are not without cost. Time away from family is a big one for me. And, whether your “day job” is parenthood or a job outside of the home, there is a lot of time spent piecing your work and personal life back together when you return home. There are also out-of-pocket costs to consider. Travel costs out of state are an obvious big one. Also many events carry application fees, and quite a number of the smaller ones do not include lodging (though thankfully some organizers have recognized the importance of that and recruited very generous hosts in the communities to house artists during festival week—which is HUGE for me, and for most artists I know.) Sales may happen to offset these expenses, but they are by no means a sure thing. There are also physical costs to those of us who are no longer spring chicks.😬 I spend about a week after I get home just resting and recovering, putting my house and studio back in order, and getting daily life back on track.

“Nature’s Gifts” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x16”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

“Nature’s Gifts” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 12x16”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

But the payoffs are many. Some events have really nice dinners and get-togethers during the week, and a show that culminates at the end with outreach to the community. Some offer cash and other prizes of value as well, which is a nice bonus for the lucky winners. But you don’t have to win a prize to reap the intangible and more lasting bonuses. I am endlessly inspired by the amazing artists I meet, seeing their dedication to their work, and the community that is sparked by painting together and celebrating the beauty of this precious earth of ours. I have also met some incredibly generous supporters, from event organizers who dedicate so much time and energy to making the entire engine run, the generosity of the event sponsors and hosts, and of course, the collectors who support our craft.

“A New Day in Assateague” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 11x14”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

“A New Day in Assateague” ©Jennifer E Young. Oil on linen, 11x14”. Painted during Chincoteague Plein Air, 2019.

Compared to some of my artist associates, I am still a novice at these events. I will likely never “do the circuit” as a primary lifestyle, and that’s okay. But I am setting the intention to make some of these festivals a part of my artistic experience throughout the year as much as possible. In terms of personal growth they seem well worth the effort. All things considered, the payoffs that win the day.

P.S. Plein Air Magazine is a good resource for learning about the when and where of these events all over the country. Every winter they publish an Ultimate Guide to Artist’s and Collector’s Plein Air Events. You can see last year’s edition here.

Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

An Evening at the Boatyard

This painting was a little difficult to photograph due to the contrast in the subject and the thick texture in the paint. But I ultimately succeeded in capturing a good shot on a flat and cloudy day when it wasn’t too dark or too blaringly bright outside. Hopefully the energy I felt in returning to the easel shines through in the piece.

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

I have been looking at a lot of art lately and painting a few lemons in between (both literally and figuratively😅.) As a result I feel compelled to express myself in a way that is not so literal. I don’t know how far out into the world of abstraction I want to venture, but I do feel the pull to simplify in the very least. What’s enough but not too much? That’s the question. I haven’t found the answer yet, at least not in my own work, but it’s something very much on my mind. It will probably take many more paintings (and quite a few more lemons) before I even come close to an answer.

Upcoming show, demo, and more

Too many irons in the fire makes Jen a lame blogger. However, I hope you'll still welcome this post and the news I have to share. First off, I announced some of this in my last newsletter, but if you don't subscribe to that, I'm pleased to announce that I have been invited to be the Featured Artist at Cabell Gallery in Lexington, Virginia. The gallery will hold an opening reception from 5:00 - 7:30 PM, this Friday, June 2nd. I will be in attendance, and it would be so, so great to see some friendly faces there. Here is one of the new pieces I just brought down there for the show:

"The Nubians", Oil on linen, 16x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"The Nubians", Oil on linen, 16x12" ©Jennifer E Young

If I happen to miss you at the art opening on Friday, I'll also be painting alongside other Gallery Flux artists on Sunday during the Rassawek Spring Jubilee at Rassawek Vineyards. I painted with Gallery Flux during this event last year and it was loads of fun. They'll have music, food, a variety of demonstrations from animals to art, and of course, wine! The event runs throughout the weekend, but I will be there on Sunday, June 4th, at 11 a.m. Here are a couple of pieces I did at last year's event. Come by and see them at the Gallery Flux display, plus whatever else I create at the event this year.

Lastly, the garage conversion is done and I am finally moving into my permanent studio space. It's been quite a process and I admit pretty stressful trying to get ready for a show with no real studio space to work in, but Hallelujah! It's all a thing of the past now. I did not post progress pictures as promised because I was too overwhelmed with everything that's been going on, but I'll have some images of the final space to share by next week if not before.

Life in the Meadow; Start to Finish

Today I thought I'd share the  progressive steps for my newest painting of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. (My usual disclaimers and apologies about the quality of these in-progress photos apply due to lighting conditions in my temporary work space.) This view is near the little B&B where we have stayed on a couple of occasions while visiting Bedford, Virginia.

I'm starting as usual with a sepia-toned sketch thinned with Gamsol to work out the main elements of my composition. This is very loose and general, but it helps me to determine placement. At this early stage I am not overly obsessed with exactness of the forms. Unlike with watercolor, in oil painting I like to carve and refine shapes as I go along. 

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In the next steps I concentrate on massing in areas in the shadow family. This doesn't take too long because in contrast to my prior painting of the Blue Ridge which was predominantly in shadow, this new painting is predominantly sunlit, with a light source that is nearly overhead.

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Next steps are massing in the meadow and the rest of the tree shapes, as well as the distant mountains

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Followed by the sky

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With the canvas nearly covered I work out the finer details of my primary focal area (the horses). 

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At the final stages I add some suggestions of wildflowers to the field. I also add highlights and soften edges here and there, until I achieve the illusion of depth and light I'm after. 

Voila! The final: 

"Life in the Meadow", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer Young

"Life in the Meadow", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer Young