Thursday, July 8, 2021

Looking Back - Almost A Decade of Plein Air Painting

I’m in a plein air state of mind this week at the Plein Air Easton Competition and Arts Festival, and in keeping with that, I’m posting my favorite plein air paintings from the last decade, ones that are still my favorites, or, even if I’d paint them differently now, represented a breakthrough for me at the time in my process.

The best part of looking back at this old work is all of the great memories of our travel adventures that each piece reminds me of. All the wonderful moments in nature, and all of the challenges of painting on location, indoors as well as out. The moments of joy when a painting is going well, and the struggle when it’s not. No matter what, I learned so much from each experience.
Years of plein air painting has taught me many great lessons, and has profoundly influenced and improved my studio work.
2016 Augusta Plein Air Art Festival

"Good Morning, Church Road" • Oil on Panel • 14" x 18" • Private Collection

Winner, 2nd Place

Featured, Plein Air Magazine, June-July 2018

This is one of those paintings that was sheer joy, because it went smoothly from start to finish.

Kimberly and I arrived at this spot just before sunrise, and spent a really peaceful morning here, me catching the sun from the back of the barn, and Kimberly photographing the play of light on the front, and on vintage tractor equipment nearby.

This quiet morning is still one of our fondest shared plein air memories of all.
2017 Laguna Plein Air Painters Association
Plein Air Painting Invitational Portrait Demonstration

"Howdy" • Oil on Linen • 14" x 18" • Private Collection

Featured, Southwest Art Magazine, September 2018

This is the first portrait I ever painted at a plein air event, and it came together in under an hour.

I had spent the previous winter painting live models twice a week at the Coppini Academy of Fine Art in San Antonio, Texas, and that experience really helped me tackle this figure quickly and decisively.
2017 Plein Air Richmond

"A Window On Bentley's Backyard" • Oil on Linen • 18" x 24" • Private Collection

Winner, Best in Show

Cover, Southwest Art Magazine September 2018

Featured, Plein Air Magazine, June-July 2018

This was a big break-through in plein air painting for me. Not because it won a Best in Show, but because it was my second try at this scene.

I painted it my first year at Plein Air Richmond in 2016, but was unhappy with the results, so I scraped it down ... never be afraid to keep trying, or to start over. Come back to subjects you failed at before, because you will surprise yourself.

It's also a great example of the unpredictability of plein air. The dog presented himself during the painting process, sitting down in just the perfect spot for the composition.
2018 Plein Air Richmond

"A Welcoming Table" • Oil on Linen • 18" x 24" • Private Collection

Winner, Honorable Mention Award

Featured, Southwest Art Magazine, September 2018

Having an emotional connection to the space is what made all the difference in this painting.

We loved our stays in this beautiful carriage house, a lovely environment designed by two incredibly talented creatives we were honored to meet and spend some time with. Our feelings for this great space, and its creators, made its way into the painting.

This is definitely one of my favorite plein air paintings of all time, and yet I've caught a lot of heat for even referring to it as "plein air." Who gets to make those rules anyway? If you're taking part in a competition, then the event organizers' opinions are what matters, and in this case, interiors were allowed. As artists, it's important to not get caught up in the limitations of labels.
2016 Sedona Arts Center Plein Air Festival

"Hillside History, Jerome" • Oil on Panel  • 16" x 20" • Private Collection

Winner, Best of Show

Featured, Plein Air Magazine, June-July 2018

Here's a scene from one of the coolest places our travels have taken us - Jerome, Arizona. This mining town is considered one of the most haunted places in the US, and I fell in love with this colorful house belonging to the owner of the Rickeldoris Candy & Popcorn Company.

My wife accidentally threw her jacket on top of this painting right after I loaded it in the car, but luckily no serious damage occurred. That's another element of unpredictability when working on location. I've had wet paintings sprayed with cut grass, covered with bugs, and drenched in thunderstorms. It's all part of the experience.
2016 Paint the Peninsula Plein Air Festival

"Above & Below the Sol Duc" • Oil on Panel • 14" x 18" • Private Collection

Winner, Olympic National Park Interpretive Rangers Award

Featured, Southwest Art Magazine , September 2018

This one was painted along the Sol Duc River in Olympic National Park.

One of the most serene experiences I have ever had, and a great memory of one of the most beautiful parts of the entire country. Another top plein air memory for both Kimberly and I. We've got to get back to Washington state again some day.
2017 Plein Air Easton Competition and Arts Festival
Small Painting

"Burst" • Oil on Panel  • 6" x 8" • Private Collection

Another painting from Plein Air Easton that almost didn't survive.

After finishing the piece, I leaned over it to grab a frame, and my t-shirt made contact, creating a perfect print on the fabric. I think I liked the painting better after the mishap, and I really should have saved that shirt.
2015 Augusta Plein Air Art Festival
"Stones, Femme Osage" • Oil on Canvas • 16" x 12" • Private Collection

Winner, Best of Show
Winner, 1st Place Award
Winner, Artists Choice Award
This painting taught me of the importance of painting what you personally are drawn to, not simply what you think will sell or win an award. If you paint something you don't care about, no one else will probably care about it either. If you paint what really moves you, it shows.

I really loved the design of the scene, and the sense of history in the tiny town of Femme Osage, Missouri.

That evening, the doubts kicked in. I asked myself all of the usual questions. Was I happy with the color, the values, the textures of the paint? Was it too tightly rendered? Were parts of it too loosely rendered? But one question stood out the most - was it too morbid? It's a graveyard after all. I decided I would scrape it off and paint over it.

Every artist needs a true confidant, and my wife Kimberly is mine. I sent an image of the painting to her, and her positive reaction was what saved it. It went on to win three awards, including Best of Show.

Paint what moves you.
2016 Easels In Frederick

"Light Dancing At the Clapp Barn" • Oil on Panel • 16" x 20" • Private Collection

Winner, Best Use of Light Award
Tied, Artists Choice Award

Sometimes, an opportunity suddenly presents itself, and this is a perfect example. I had been out painting all day, and returned to my host home for the evening.

While intending to relax, I noticed the light hitting the side of this barn in an exciting pattern, and rushed to dash off the painting before the moment was gone. An afterthought ended up as my best painting of the week and went on to win two awards.
2019 Olmsted Plein Air Invitational

"Dining at the Swan" • Oil on Linen • 18"x24" • Private Collection

Winner, Best Architectural Award

Another painting that almost wasn't. I spent an enjoyable afternoon in the dining room of the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center.

I had a great time chatting with the docents, and didn't find myself to be very focused on the painting. For this reason, at the end of the day, I had intended to scrape the painting and paint over it. Once again, sharing a photo of how I had spent my afternoon with Kimberly, she convinced me that it was working really well. I let it sit for a few days and decided to submit it for judging, where it went on to win an award.
© Patrick and Kimberly Saunders, Patrick Saunders Fine Arts, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors/owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Patrick Saunders for painted works, or to Kimberly Saunders for photographs and/or videos, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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