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 .

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!

Sharpening the Saw: The value of a quick study

Last month I completed a weekly class with David Tanner, a painter well-known locally for his portraiture. I believe the best artists, and especially the best teachers, are also lifelong students. Thus I am a true believer in the periodic practice of focused study to “sharpen the saw” and to discover new ways of seeing and working.

My current obligations and time constraints make it difficult to invest in a week-long workshop out of town. So I was really interested when a fellow painter-friend recommended David’s class down at the Visual Art Center in Richmond. I have known and enjoyed David’s paintings for his sensitive portraits, his impressionist style and beautiful color sense, so I was delighted when his class, “Increase Your Speed & Capture the Color in Oil” jived with my daughter’s school and after-school schedule.

I loved the concept of this class, which was to distill the subjects, whether still life or the live model, to essential planes, light and shadow, and color, in quick small oil studies. Each class was roughly divided into two 1 1/2 hour sessions, beginning with one or two objects (a vase, a watering can, a piece of fruit) and various combinations of colorful backdrops. Gradually through each class the level of difficulty increased, until switching at last to the live model.

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

Quick studies done in class, 8x10” and 6x8”

My biggest takeaway from this class was the importance of regular practice, with quick studies as a sort of artistic calisthenics. These little paintings, no matter how mundane the subject, were created with the INTENTION of allowing them to just be studies and nothing more. So often with my time constraints I feel a great pressure to create finished pieces— something I can sign and put a frame on. This class was not about that—at all—and I loved it! Frankly, I needed it.

Putting a time limit on the sessions helped me avoid jumping into the fussy details too soon. This occurs also with plein air painting practice, though I tend to spend more time on those, establishing correct proportion and a pleasing composition. I can really see using this approach as a compliment to my plein air painting practice, on rainy days when I can’t get outside. It’s also just a good a regular practice to work into my studio time, to improve and sharpen the saw.

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.