Sunday, May 24, 2015

Penn Valley Park Plein Air Fest 2015 - Experience

I'm getting used to painting in the rain. That was the theme for the 2015 Penn Valley Park Plein Air Fest. Sure, there were moments when the weather was perfect, but I'll remember this as the experience that forced me to paint subjects I wouldn't normally paint.

My paintings have always been about light. Don't misunderstand, I'm not the "Painter of Light" in the Thomas Kinkade sense - I don't paint twinkles of disembodied lights and colors that act only as flair in a painting. I've always been drawn to the way light accentuates form. The combination of light and shadow, chiaroscuro, the way a strong light simplifies the form and enhances the differences between warm and cool temperatures. It excites me and to be honest, makes my work easier. This particular weekend, I had to find my subjects without a strong light source, and the struggle was worth it.

I'll start with a disastrous first quick paint. We met at Just Off Broadway Theatre which is built inside the remains of a Kansas City Parks Department Operations Building from 1910. The old limestone walls are all that remain of the original structure. It's a cool building, and a visually complicated one made ever more so on a grey and rainy day.
Just Off Broadway Theatre on a grey day. Oh man.
I knew the angle that I wanted, and got my gear all set up. Knowing that the building would not have the strong contrast I was looking for, I tried to design my painting with some additional foreground elements (an overhanging tree limb) that might push the contrasts.
There I am, painting in the rain.
An hour and a half into the painting was when everything went south. It all started out ok. The tree limb was definitely the focal point, as I simplified the shape of the building due to the lack of contrast. Then, with 20 minutes remaining, the sun arrived and hit the side of the building.
Just Off Broadway Theatre in the sun. Now that's what I wanted.
And here's the problem. I got excited about the change in light, color and contrast. I went for it. I painted the side of the building as I saw it at that point. That destroyed everything. I now had two focal points and two distinct lighting situations. That was my lesson - don't change the light in mid painting.
That's mine on the right. Blah.
The winner that night was Amanda Sophia. She used the contrast created by structures to create a painting that worked even before the light changed and revealed that strong red on the side of the building past the bridge. Great work.
Amanda Sophia's winning painting.
Now let's talk about a more successful painting. Earlier in the day, I went out to find a subject that I could comfortably paint in the diffused rainy day light. I've always wanted to paint Kansas City's Union Station, and from the lawn of the Liberty Memorial, I had a great view. The facade of the building had great contrast created by its windows, even without the sun shining. I set up under a tree in the hopes of limiting my exposure to the rain. Even so, I had to stop every so often to shake the water off of my painting and dump the water from my palette. After a couple of hours, I was happy with where the piece was headed, but I had to stop and let my easel dry out.
Union Station from the lawn of the Liberty Memorial.
A couple hours into the painting.
The next morning, we had sun, but my experience at the quick paint stopped me from going back to the Union Station painting. The forecast was for a heavy downpour that afternoon - the perfect time to continue. When I say downpour, I really mean it. There were moments where I had to stop, close up the umbrella and just hold onto the easel to stop the wind from taking everything. I had to smack the canvas against the nearby tree to dislodge the water. Kimberly came out and shot a pic of how ridiculous I looked in a leftover Disney World rain slicker.
But here's the thing, it paid off. The light remained the same, and I was able to produce a painting that I was happy with. Even without a strong light source, the contrast in the subject made it work.
The finished painting in its environment.
Saturday morning was the final quick paint at Penn Valley Lake. It was cool but clear, with no rain expected until the event was finished. After the rain experience, this was relaxed. I found a nice quiet spot and painted the calm lake scene below. There were a lot of nice paintings that morning, but I'm thrilled to say that my piece won the purchase award.
"Penn Valley Lake" oil on canvas, 12"x16"
Final judging.

The finalists and their paintings.
That night was the closing show and awards ceremony. When I arrived, "Union Station in Rain" had already been sold, and to top it off, I'm happy to say that it also won the First Place award. It was another great experience, and there were a number of wonderful paintings.
"Union Station in Rain" oil on canvas, 16"x12"
Me with my first place painting.
Spencer Meagher took Best of Show
Alex Hamil took Second Place.

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