Monday, May 12, 2014

The Penn Valley Park Plein Air Fest Experience - Part 1

This past weekend, I participated in the 1st annual Penn Valley Park Plein Air Fest. It was a painting competition benefiting the Penn Valley Park Conservancy in Kansas City, Missouri.

After signing in and getting my canvases stamped, I started right away Wednesday morning with a quick warm up. I set up near the ruins of the Kansas City Parks Department Operations Building. This is all that remains of the building, built in 1910, which served for eighty years as the offices of the parks department, barn for the mounted police and storage for park equipment. Before it burned down in 1991, the building had fallen into disuse. The local quarried walls now surround the Just Off Broadway Theatre, which was built in 2011.

I loved the way the early morning light enhanced the limestone and cast shadows across the hillside. The light changes quickly at this time of morning, so I only did about a half hour block in. I'm sure I'll come back to paint this scene at some point in the future.
That evening, following an artist/patron get together, Kimberly, the dogs and I headed over to the Pioneer Mother statue in the middle of the park. There was a quick paint scheduled for this very same location the following evening, but the weather forecast was calling for severe thunderstorms and hail. I had an idea of how I wanted to capture the scene, but expecting the quick paint to be cancelled, I decided to go a day early.

The Pioneer Mother Memorial designed by A. Phiminster Proctor stands within a few hundred feet of a branch of the Santa Fe Trail and depicts pioneers traveling westward over the vast expanse of plains. The monument weighs over 16,000 lbs. and stands on a pedestal of Minnesota pearl pink granite with a concrete base. Presented to the people of Kansas City by Howard Vanderslice in 1927, the inscription reads: "To commemorate the Pioneer Mother who with unfaltering trust in God suffered the hardship of the unknown west to prepare for us a homeland of peace and plenty." Vanderslice's own mother had traveled across the plains in search of a better life. Proctor created the piece in California, had it cast in Italy and the molds and casts were destroyed after completion. 

We arrived around 7pm, with the sun already low in the sky. I chose to paint the statue from street level which I though would be an interesting composition. Plenty of grass taking up the majority of the canvas, enhancing the idea of the pioneer alone on the prairie.
Blocking in. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Dandelions! Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Barney and Betty hanging out. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
I realized early on, that I really likes the way the hillside was overrun by dandelions with the setting sun just barely touching the tops of a few of them, so my green hill quickly became more than grass. With the sun setting quickly, we stayed less than an hour, and I knew I would need to find another evening to return and finish the painting.

Thursday morning brought ominous clouds and the threat of severe thunderstorms. I chose not to head out early and paint - the light was very flat anyway, but the storms stayed away throughout the day. I was able to get out and paint at bit in the afternoon, but the light was so unstable, I didn't feel that I created anything worthwhile. That evening the first quick paint competition was scheduled, but we were all expecting a cancellation due to weather.

At 4pm, the artists began arriving at the Pioneer Mother statue for check in, everyone wondering if the rain would start pouring any minute.
Waiting for the whistle and the storm. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
If you're not familiar with a quick paint, it's very simple. The painters all come to a predetermined location with a blank canvas. At the designated time, a whistle is blown to signal the beginning of painting. When the whistle blows again (2 hours later in this case), brushes are down and the judging begins.

We were lucky, as the weather held out. At 5pm, the whistle blew and we began.
The initial block in. I don't draw. I find it faster to just paint the big shapes in very thin paint. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

Getting the shape of the statue more correct. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
 5 minutes in. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
With the high winds, the clouds were moving rapidly, causing frequent and extreme changes in the lighting of the scene. I had to make a choice and paint in the sky rapidly, knowing that it would look completely different in a matter of minutes.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Fixing the shape with the negative space. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Adding in the highlights when they appear. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Due to the changing light, I had to work quickly and finished in under an hour. With another hour to go until the whistle blew, I took a break, walked around the statue and came back to decide what to do next. I decided not to make any changes. The painting said what I wanted it to say, and going back into it would most likely overwork the piece.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
At 7pm, the whistle blew and we all gathered around the statue for judging. Judge Phil Starke carefully reviewed all of the great work and chose Craig Lueck as the winner with an amazing watercolor featuring the downtown skyline. Congratulations to Craig!

I'll continue with Friday's experience in my next post.