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.

Beach Week Bliss

What happened to June? It was a crazy, exciting month. To our surprise and delight, our 8 year old daughter had landed a bona fide cast role— as “Molly” ( the littlest orphan,) in the chlidren’s theater production of “Annie”. I soon founding myself chauffering her to daily rehearsals and painting orphanage set pieces, Hooverville set pieces, and various props in the production.

We had a blast during the whole experience, but by the time beach week (and July) rolled around (the day after closing the show!) we were all SO ready to return back to our normal, boring life. Not only that, but I was REALLY ready to return to painting—landscapes on canvas, that is.

My first, early morning attempt at it didn’t exactly go as planned, however. Little did I know when I hauled myself and all of my gear over the dunes and down to the shore at 6 a.m. that I was without a rather key part of my painting setup—the piece of my pochade box that attaches to my tripod and essentially holds my painting upright. As dismayed as I was, I determined to forge ahead.

I managed to complete a small 8x10” just-after-sunrise piece of the pier, propping the canvas horizontally the way you would a watercolor, on the edge of my palette. But it was no watercolor. The morning sun cast such a light on my oil painting at this angle that it was really glaring and almost blindingly too much light on the piece, making it hard to view or judge values. In any event, after a few minor adjustments “after the fact,” I think I managed to capture the “feeling of the moment” in spite of the struggle.

“Nags Head Pier, 6 A.M.” Oil on linen, 8x10” ©Jennifer E Young

“Nags Head Pier, 6 A.M.” Oil on linen, 8x10” ©Jennifer E Young

I actually thought I had left that key piece of equipment at home, but luckily for me (and the next painting,) I found it, tucked in a compartment in the trunk of my car. Whew! 😅This gave me courage to venture a little further down the road, to find a public beach access and a traditional Nags Head cottage, complete with dunes, weathered cedar shingles, and a fishing boat temporarily moored in the distance between the two. I really love the traditional cottages of “Old Nags Head”, and this cottage “Sand Joy” seemed to embody so much of that local character.

“Sand Joy” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

“Sand Joy” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

One other morning it was down to Nags Head Fishing Pier. It was a little too far from the house to hike with all of my gear, so I drove down and paid to park. Ironically, I ended up painting the beach and no pier at all. I had fully intended to paint that pier with its waves lapping and glinting under the pilings, but my eye and my heart kept drifting to the beach and the surf and those wonderful clouds that were forming on the skyline. So I wiped down my canvas and started anew. In such moments I just feel it is better to paint what compels you, rather than what you think “should” compel you.

“Nags Head in July,” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

“Nags Head in July,” Oil on linen, 11x14” ©Jennifer E Young

After that I ran out of white paint and was bummed to find the only art store on the island apparently closed for the July 4th weekend. As a result, I was “compelled” by necessity to just relax the next morning or two and enjoy the sandcastles and porpoises, which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly suffering. I took a lot of great photos, though, so I am sure to revisit my time there in the coming months in my studio. Hope you’ll stay tuned for that inevitability!

P. S. I have a couple of upcoming summer shows in the very near future, including one at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens that opens tomorrow night. I have written indepth about them in my latest newsletter, which you can check out here. I hope you can join me at the openings if you are in the area!

For Everything, A Season

It’s been a difficult year. I guess I’m now at a point where I can finally write it down, but based on the June date of my last real blog post,😳 (aside from the occasional quick announcement) maybe it was already evident. June was when the reality settled in for me and my siblings that it was time to say goodbye (for now) to our beautiful, sweet, smart, creative mother, who had struggled with her illness in an acute form for over a year. I thought I was prepared, but no matter how well you understand the “reality” in front of you, there’s nothing that really prepares you for such a loss. With a little distance and time, I am still realizing how much it knocked the wind out of my sails, and I’ll admit that I am struggling to get my energy and my painting “mojo” back.

If you, yourself, are a creative of any kind, I’m sure you know that feeling of creative flow. It’s so great when it’s present and really kind of miserable when it isn’t. That’s not to say that I haven’t painted at all. In fact, the paintings I’m sharing in this post are from commissions and projects I worked on over the past few months. But it’s been hard to get that momentum going where gears are all greased and the ideas and inspiration just keep flowing and I’m chomping at the bit with my next idea.

I suppose there are art marketing gurus out there that say that you should never admit such things and always put your most successful foot forward. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” so to speak, and only share your successes and never the struggle. That can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not particularly authentic. Let’s face it, the struggle can be real and I would venture to say I am not the only artist who has been in this place.

If you are in this place also, my advice is to be gentle on yourself. Do the work that is in front of you, do what you can, but don’t beat yourself up that it’s just “not happening” for you every time you step in front of the easel (or the potter’s wheel or the computer). Celebrate the moments of inspiration in whatever form and for however long they come. This too will pass, but in the meantime, the only way past it is to get through it the best way you know how.

For me, I’m reorganizing my studio, working on an new inventory management system, and cleaning up the office as a way to clear out both the mental and physical clutter. As a result, I’m holding a holiday sale of smaller (mostly plein air) paintings with some great savings in hopes that I can manage my limited storage space and also hopefully send a few more pieces out into the world. I’m also working on a series of still life paintings, as they are less dependent on time of day and weather. More about that in future posts.

New auction listing, "Shadows of the Pier" original oil, 8x8"

Today's auction listing is for a loose, impressionist painting of North Carolina's Outer Banks. I painted this little 8x8" oil "en plein air" over the summer during our annual vacation down there. It's a special place and it's a trip I look forward to all year long!  This auction will end on Wednesday, November  8th at 8 PM US Eastern time, or 5 PM Pacific. 

"Shadows of the Pier", Oil on linen, 8x8"  SOLD!

"Shadows of the Pier", Oil on linen, 8x8" SOLD!

A Room of One's Own

Yesterday on social media I posted the video of my long-awaited studio completion. If you weren't tuned in to that, I'm including it below. Today I'm also sharing a few more photos and some details because I'm really excited to finally have a permanent home to create my work.

Yes, the garage-to-studio is complete! Hurrah! 😄 I feel as if I have been moving for nearly two years, because, well, I have. So just the very thought of not having to shuffle my supplies and equipment from one place to the other is a most delicious concept to me.

It doesn't have the cottage charm of my former studio,  but it's open and airy and has North light and storage, so I feel like I'm in luxury any way. Here are the bins we had built:

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We built them "up" to keep the work off of the floor, even making use of the space over the water heater. 

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I'm using the same hanging system for hanging art as I did in the last studio, using picture rail and a hook and rod system from Walker Display. But my favorite feature is the shelving that runs along the perimeter of the space. 

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This came about because I had a strange cinder block bump-out that ran along the walls of the garage, and the carpenter suggested capping this off with some shelving where I could perch works-in-progress, wet paintings, or other unframed art. He also ran this same shelving over the doors and windows I had framed in, in place of the the old garage doors. 

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This space is just slightly east of due north studio lighting. But as you can see, when the sun goes down I still need supplemental lighting. For that I have installed Daylight LED tube lights and tracks. At some point I may install a couple of additional short tracks over my framing and auxiliary painting area, but I have enough to get me up and running. 

In keeping with tradition, I maintain my usual impeccable timing, and have completed the studio just in time to leave for two weeks on a plein air painting trip to Maine for an artist's residency. So, as excited as I am for my new space, it will have to wait to get junked up until I return! 😉  Meanwhile, God and internet willing, I hope to blog from the road during my travels.