The Paint Annapolis plein air exhibition ended on Sunday, so on Monday I drove up to Annapolis to pick up unsold work from the competition. It would have been nice to do some more painting up there while I was at it, but I had to get back home so it was rather a whirlwind trip. I rather like this little skipjack, patiently waiting for some action as it sits in a drive just behind a veggie garden. It's probably my favorite piece from the event.
Paintings of France, Italy, and Beyond ©Jennifer E Young
Sorry to say, my blog has suffered a bit from benign neglect since I left for my travels a few weeks ago. Rain and 30 mile/hr wind consumed most of our beach vacation, so while it was still beautiful, there was no chance of painting boats or coastal motifs before the Paint Annapolis competition that followed just a week later. Paint Annapolis itself was fun and enlightening, but since I am still dealing with shoulder tendinitis and pain, it was physically stressful and pretty exhausting. For the first two days, it seemed that I had brought the crappy weather I'd had at the beach right along with me up to the Annapolis event. The weather did turn beautiful during the last portion, but I think I kind of "blew myself out" trying to get something interesting down early on while the weather was gray and the light exceedingly flat.
The previous paragraph makes it sound like I didn't enjoy myself at all, but that was not the case! In fact, while I didn't come home with any prizes, I still received a lot of reward. My early struggles notwithstanding, the city of Annapolis is charming. I had a lovely host for the event, and everyone I encountered in the event organization, and even in the town at large, was warm and friendly. AND I'm delighted to say that I sold a study right from the easel! :-) I also found myself among some incredibly talented painters and it was truly inspiring to see so much fine work being produced by my contemporaries. Almost all of the artists were friendly, uplifting, and inclusive, making the atmosphere feel more like a (highly motivated) community than a competition. So much so, in fact, that by the time it was all over with, in spite of my exhaustion, I was actually sad to see it end.
"A Banner Day", Oil on linen, 12x12"
As a painter, I also I learned a lot. I learned that if it isn't happening, don't force it. I learned that if the light is truly uninteresting, you're better off sleeping in a day or two and staying up at night to paint nocturnes! I learned that in the overwhelm of an unfamiliar environment, I'd be much better off painting simple studies successfully than failing at capturing a very complicated scene. I learned that even in the anxiety of knowing you only have 3 days to paint, you really do have to pace yourself, take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and give your mind and body enough time to rest and relax. And I learned that all of the things I thought I knew can so easily fall by the wayside in this thing called "competition".
As is usually the case with me, I learned much of this more through error than through trial. In a way, the lessons I learned at the competition are only larger-than-life versions of the lessons I learn all the time through the act of plein air painting. These paintings can be like mini thrills-of-victory or agonies-of-defeat, though often they fall somewhere in between. Much is made of the victories (and with good reason) but for the painter who is fortunate enough to recognize it, they all hold value. The value lies in what you take away from it.
p.s. The painting posted was painted during the sunny portion of the event. It's from the quick draw called "Dueling Brushes". Please contact me for purchase inquiries. I posted about this event also last year and you can read my account here.
Just a quick note to share a couple of upcoming art events. First, I am very excited to learn that I was one of 24 artists selected to participate in the The Paint Annapolis 2009 juried competition in September. Longtime blog readers may recall that I went up and participated in just the quick draw portion last year. But this year will be my first time as a juried participant in a week-long event of this size. The entry juror was the very talented painter Scott Burdick, whose work, his portraits particular, I've long admired. Second, I've been invited to be a featured artist with painter Hilarie Lambert in an upcoming show at City Art Gallery in Greenville, NC. The show will feature works from our European travels, and opens on August 6th. Here is one of my new paintings I've done for the show:
One of my favorite parts of my trip last year (okay, I have a LOT of favorite parts!) was visiting the incredible market in Cahors. It was a true French market with all the goods--meat, veggies, cheeses, flowers, oils, soaps, and linens--and none of the tourist tchotchkes that you can see in some of the European markets of the well-traveled cities.
I painted a flower stand in this market en plein air, but this is an alternate view from the same day. The flower stand is in the distance, beyond what you see in the foreground- a stand of sausages (saucissons- pronounced somewhat like SO-SEE-SAW). I'm not a meat-eater now, but once upon a time I tasted some country French sausages like these. They were very rich, but pretty darn tasty at the time. I've lost my taste for it now, but it's still fun to say "saucissons"!
After having what I felt to be a successful morning on my 2nd day in Annapolis, it was my expectation to have as wonderful an afternoon. NOT! There are times when I have to push myself to paint, even if I don't feel like it. This is usually a good idea, but not always. Sometimes giving yourself a chance to "recharge" is the best thing you can possibly do for your work, and this was one of those times. Once I finished "Daybreak", I decided to take a "lunch break" and get out of the midday sun to check out some of the local Annapolis galleries. My plan was then to find some charming street corner where I might set up in town. There was plenty of material to choose from, to be sure. So even though I was pretty tired, I set up in a quiet spot to paint a pretty B&B surrounded by flowers.
The thing that attracted me to the spotthough, was the pattern of the light, which was steady and strong in constrast and formed an interesting pattern of interconnecting diagonals....At least when I first started. But soon a heavy cloud cover set in.....and lifted....and set in again. By the time the clouds had cleared for good, the pattern of light had completely changed and I finally found myself scrapping the whole painting in frustration.
By the time I had gotten back to the hotel, it was late and I was even more tired. I had actually scheduled myself to compete in a little quick-draw competition called "Dueling Brushes", on the next (and final) morning. But before I went to bed, I called my husband and told him I was considering skipping the event and just coming on home. "Come home if that's what you want," he said, "Nobody's making you do this."
He was right, of course. But I guess the night's rest was restorative, because the next morning I figured, what the heck? I'd go ahead with it. After all, I'd registered for the event, I was in town, and I'd spent a couple of days painting this subject matter so at least I'd had a little preparation. Plus I'd already been through the "agony of defeat" and I was still standing ;-)
The event rules stated that we all had two hours to create a finished painting, after which time we were to scurry our paintings and easels over to the judging area. The judge would then award cash prizes and we'd have a little exhibition in the public square.
To make things easy on myself I decided to set up to paint the open harbor that was pretty close to the judging area. There were surely other interesting spots in town I could have scouted out, but I just couldn't see myself running through town like a maniac with my easel trying to make it in time for the judging.
From the position I chose along the open harbor, the boats in the scene were pretty far out into the middle ground. It was looking like I might be stuck with a rather placid composition on an overcast day with no foreground interest. But the clock had started andthere were some subtle shimmering light patterns on the water that I thought maybe I could make something out of. So I settled on a design in my head, set up all of my gear, and began my composition--just in time for a huge tourist boat to pull up and park right in front of my view. ARRRRGH!
I moved all of my gear as quickly as I could to a nearby spot. The view was a little different, but I recovered fairly quickly with a revised plan and got to work. Then I lucked out. What started out as an overcast morning with flat light soon began to give way to breaking clouds backlit by the morning sun. I had found my interest (and actually, the sky I had painted on the previous morning served me well in this moment.) I quickly changed my plan again and lowered the horizon--this was going to be a painting about the sky.
To my surprise and delight, I really began to have fun. And when it came time for the judging, I was surprised and delighted again. The painting received "Honorable Mention," which seemed a pretty good accomplishment for a newcomer to these events, especially considering I was thinking about skipping the whole thing!
Had a few technical difficulties to overcome before I could post again, but I'm picking up where I last left off writing about the Annapolis paint out. Day two of the paint-out started off great, mainly because I had been able to do a little planning the day before. Painting in an unfamiliar place can always be a little overwhelming. It takes a little bit of time to get your bearings and find locations that appeal to you. This task can also be a little more daunting if you are also painting unfamiliar subject matter. (In my case, not living near a harbor or having much boating experience, that subject matter would be the preponderance of boats.) To tackle the first obstacle, I spent some time on the first day (in between my morning and afternoon paintings) just wandering around scouting out possible painting locations along the many small harbors. One thing to consider is the path the sun will take across the sky throughout the day from sunrise to sunset. Having already done one morning painting the first day, I began to get a feel for which locations would make good morning setups and which would work better for me in the evenings. (I will also sometimes carry a compass with me to accomplish this task.) As a result, I found a location in Eastport that I knew would be perfect for an early morning sunrise scene. And in contrast to the first morning when I got started late, I was able to arrive early on day 2 and start painting between 7 and 7:30 a.m.
As for the second obstacle.... the first thing I had to do was to recognize that no matter what I am painting, all I really need to do is paint shapes and the play of light on forms. If you can accurately see what is in front of you as abstract shapes and light patterns (and get a good grasp especially on painting the shapes of the negative space between the forms as well,) form naturally happens. Having said that, the mind plays tricks on the untrained eye--even sometimes on the eye that has had a bit of training. Boats (like trees and the human face) are some of the things that the mind has long tended to see as symbols. They're some of the things that so many of us drew when we were kids --a sort of half-circle topped with two triangles. So one can easily fall into the trap of painting a symbol of a boat (or a tree or a face) instead of painting the actual shape.
While intellectually I know that all of the above is true, for my own peace of mind, I found it also helpful to consult one of my favorite art books of all time by Emile A. Gruppe. Gruppe was a fine New England painter of landscapes, townscapes and most notably to me, marinescapes . He was active in the 30's on up until the 70's and received training at the Art Students League in New York, and from famed American landscape painters Charles Hawthorne and John F. Carlson. Gruppe was also a wonderful teacher in his own right, both through the school that he established, and through his series of books on painting ("Brushwork," "Gruppe on Color" and "Gruppe on Painting; Direct Techniques in Oil" ).
All three of these books are fabulous. They are also out of print, making the ones that are still available quite pricey and difficult to acquire. I haven't written much about these books before because there is just sooo much I would want to to say. I can't give proper honor to each of them now without making this post even longer than it already is, but suffice it to say that despite the cost and the regardless of sad quality of the painting reproductions within, they are three incredibly worthwhile and inspiring (if not essential) additions to any landscape painter's library.
For my money, Gruppe was a master of brushwork and composition. Living in New England, he was also a frequent painter of harbors and coastal scenes, which made his book, "Gruppe on Painting; Direct Techniques in Oil," a perfect traveling companion on my trip to Annapolis. I'm glad I grabbed it as I was walking out the door, especially since this particular book has a whole section on painting harbor scenes. This is not a book of formulas, but rather a thoughtful book with a wealth of things to consider. For instance, here is an excerpt on drawing boats:
"...students havepreconceptions about what a boat should look like. They think of boats they drew as children, boats that were shaped like wooden shoes or bananas, curling up at the bow and stern. And that's how they draw them. But probably no shape could be less like that of a real ocean-going dragger; all those concave lines suggest weakness while the character of the dragger is strong and tough......Remember that the gunwhale of the boat is straight as it nears the bow--it doesn't sweep up like a gondola! And the bow goes into the water in a fairly straight line--it doesn't cut under sharply. Use strong lines to suggest a strong subject."
Just that one snippet helped me immensely, and yet there is so much more in this section alone; on cast shadows, masts, rigging, refraction, smaller boats, and docks and wharves. The conversational tone and the passion in Gruppe's writing helped me to internalize his teachings and carry them with me as I addressed the subjects and painted them from life. Here, finally, is the painting that resulted. I may need to touch it up when I return to the studio, but I was pretty happy about it overall:
"Daybreak in Annapolis Oil on Multimedia Artboard, 11x14" (SOLD) ©Jennifer Young
On this second day of painting, I was happy to meet more of the artist members of the MAPAPA, so I felt a little more connected and a little less lost. In fact, as I was finishing up the above piece, an artist came up to me with a rather dazed and confused look. She said it was her first day at the paint-out, and she'd been driving around for an hour trying to decide what to paint. I had to chuckle (not at her, but with her.) Been there, done that!