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.

From Study to Studio: Rose Regalia

There is little more satisfying than capturing a moment in time through painting. And there is no better method to achieve that end than painting from life. The beauty of plein air painting lies in its freshness and immediacy. At its best, pure notes of color painted with confidence are juxtaposed with passages of broken color as the painter makes new discoveries along the way. Light and shadow fit together like pieces of a puzzle until a unified statement coalesces into art.

Where plein air painting is very spontaneous, my approach in the studio, while similar, is more deliberate. Here I can adjust my proportions and play with the composition without the rush against time. I knew in the moment as I was painting this scene at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens that I would want to do a variation of it in a larger format. The colors were so spectacular and the garden designers did a good deal of the design work for my painting with the well- planned pathways and layers of flowers in all shades framed by trees and gazebos in the background.

“Rose Regalia”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

I chose a favorite canvas size, 24 x 30”, for my larger studio piece. It is a slightly different aspect ratio than my 12x16” plein air, so I made some slight adjustments to the proportions and placement of the gazebos to create a less centered composition.

“Rose Regalia II”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia II”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the smaller painting and the lighting effect coming from behind, but I lengthened the path to create a little more distance between the foreground roses and the background gazebos so as to slow the eye as it traveled through the painting. I really liked the looseness and freshness in the handling of the roses in my plein air piece, but I added more tonal variation and detail in the peachy roses in the foreground, since these shrubs were close to the viewer and the larger canvas seemed to call for something more.

Overall I am enjoying both the large and small versions of this composition, each in their own ways, and I think they each possess their own qualities unique to their chosen approach. The smaller plein air piece is currently one of 3 paintings I have displayed in a group show called “En Plein Air” at the Lora Robbins Library at Lewis Ginter, and the larger painting will be a part of a new exhibit this Friday at Crossroads Art Center’s Summer Open House. If you are in the Richmond area and you’d like to see these shows in person, check out my calendar for the details .

Two more from "Public Gardens Week" at Lewis Ginter

Today I am continuing my last post’s theme by sharing a bit about the two additional paintings I created during the “National Public Gardens Week” event at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. I will be submitting all three of the pieces I created during that week to a jury for an exhibit that will be held throughout the summer at Lewis Ginter. If I should get a piece (or pieces) accepted into the show, I will post an update here and also add it to my calendar. Here’s hoping!

This first piece was done in the Rose Garden, which I was so happy to have finally been able to capture at its peak, even while under the full onslaught of the Virginia sun.

“Rose Regalia, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Rose Regalia, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

I own two painting umbrellas, and whenever possible, I do my level best to avoid having to set them up. Not only does it interrupt my process by having to stop and attach it and adjust the angle, it also can easily take on the “Mary Poppins” effect, lifting my entire setup with one inopportune gust of wind. But at this location and at this time of day (and with this skin of mine) an umbrella was an absolute must. Not only does it shade my palette and my painting to eliminate the blinding glare, but it (kind of) shades me too. Here I am with my umbrella set up, working out my composition about midway through the process. I use a stone bag on my tripod to help weigh down the base of my setup. In this case, I’m using my pouch full of paints as the “stones.”

The next painting was done on another blazing hot morning down at the lily pond near the Children’s Garden. I thought I was being quite smart by tucking myself back in a shady corner on a dead-end path pond-side. Sadly that lovely shade burned away in less than an hour, and again I had to extract the dreaded umbrella apparatus.

“The Magical Treehouse, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen 12x12” ©Jennifer E Young

“The Magical Treehouse, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen 12x12” ©Jennifer E Young

Though I definitely struggled with the heat of the morning, I ultimately got lost in the joy of painting this piece. It holds so many special memories for me, having ascended the ramp that leads to the tree house many times with my young daughter. I attempted to paint this structure once before many years ago when I was newer to plein air painting and before I had a child. It ended up looking like an out of place alien space ship devoid of all charm, and I was scared away from painting it until now. I’m not sure if it was the additional experience as a painter or as a mother that helped me so much more this time. Maybe it was a little bit of both. In any case, this might be my favorite of the bunch.

Plein air in the garden

As I mentioned in my last post, I participated last week in a “call for artists” from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens week. You may know from reading previous blogs that I have painted in these gardens many times as a resident of Central Virginia. But somehow, painting in this context, constructed around an “official event,” helped me to see this place with new eyes and renewed excitement.

I decided to challenge myself by painting some gardens that I hadn’t tackled before. The first day I went it was AWASH with tours and school groups. There were so many kids there stopping to give their input. All of it was actually very positive, but also a bit distracting. Now, I love kids quite a lot, (and even have one those cuties myself) but on this day they were messing with my mojo and I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing😅.

The architectural elements were minimal, but even so, required some concentrated drawing, some sense of proportion and placement to get right, especially since I was fairly close up to my subject and didn’t have a lot of room to manuver. I moved my entire setup several times and wiped it all down, before finally settling on a view that satisfied. It left me less time than I had planned to get everything down before I had to head back to my house in Ashland, but I did a pretty decent job, with only the need for a few final touches in the studio.

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

When I was (finally) in a pretty good place with my painting, a kid came by to examine my progress. I estimate he was around my daughter’s age (3rd or 4th grade) . He studied my effort with seriousness, alternately looking at my painting and the scene, my painting and the scene. Finally he gave me a decisive and approving nod. “You’ve done your homework,” he said.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of painting outdoors. It’s filled with its share of frustrations to be sure, but the moments of spontaneity are pure gold.

Time struggles, plein air, and new calendar of events

This week has been a little crazy; two openings and a plein air event for me, theater rehearsals and school and sports for my daughter, and all of the regular stuff of life in between. But some version of crazy seems to be the norm for my schedule every week, and I am not alone.

While I was painting this week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (more on that in a minute) I ran into an artist friend and we started talking about how disorganized we can sometimes feel and how guilty we feel about not being better at marketing to social media, to our newsletters, and yes, to our blogs. When time is crunched, the choice of whether to do any of the above or to paint always seems to result in painting as the clear winner.

It’s a frustration that I know a lot of other artists share, many of whom, like me, aren’t always masters of time management or organization. “I need a calendar of events on my website,” I said to my friend, “a quick and simple way for people to check in and see my upcoming shows and events. Maybe it would help me stay more organized too.” When I got home that afternoon, I checked out my site and lo and behold it does have that functionality. So viola! I now have a calendar!😃

If you check out the aforementioned calendar you can see that I have been spending the week painting at the botanical gardens as part of a promotion for National Public Gardens Week. Local artists who applied to paint during this week will submit their completed works for a chance to be juried in to an exhibit at Lewis Ginter that opens June 22nd.

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

I really like these kind of events because even though I regularly paint outside on my own, they get me out and focused and inspired. I enjoy seeing what other artists are doing and collecting new ideas on various artists setups and tools of the trade. It’s a very different vibe from the more formal events that are organized around competition. I have some friends who thrive on competition and use it as a means to drive themselves onward to bigger heights. For myself, it’s a little more stressful. I do the competitions from time to time and haven’t yet regretted it, but I am not that competitive by nature. So the more relaxed festivals that are really just a celebration of art and plein air painting are truly my jam.