Friday, September 4, 2015

The Art of the Small Town

"Santa Fe 2546" (oil on canvas, 14"x18").
My painting from last year's event that now hangs in the Marceline City Hall.
This past weekend, Marceline hosted an Oil Painters of America paint out and I was fortunate enough to attend for the second year in a row. I had a great time last year (painted my first train, which now hangs in the Marceline City Hall), and I was looking forward to returning.

Marceline is a small town in north, central Missouri. Originally a railway stop between Chicago and Kansas City, it is now known best as the boyhood home of Walt Disney. It actually inspired the design of Main Street U.S.A. in the Disney theme parks, but the town is the real thing when it comes to Americana. The restored Santa Fe Railroad depot serves as the Walt Disney Museum.

Arriving at 8 a.m., the streets were quiet, except for my fellow artists. We all met at the North Missouri Arts Councilgallery for check-in with Darrell and Darlene Gardner. Besides being an excellent painter, Darrell is responsible for organizing the event, and he seems to be the driving force behind the growth of art and culture in the community. The Gardners are also great hosts.

The forecast was for overcast skies all day, and I needed to find a location with some nice contrast to offset the flat lighting. I noticed Ma Vic's Corner Cafe buzzing with activity, and decided to set up across the street. I liked the abstract patterns in the cafe window made by everything happening inside and the reflections from the street.

Painting Ma Vic's Corner Cafe. Photo courtesy of Darrell Gardner.
Painting in progress.

As I painted, I had a steady stream of visitors coming and going from the cafe. Everyone was friendly, and I gave a number of impromptu micro lessons on painting to kids.

"Ma Vic's" (Oil on canvas, 12"x16") by Patrick Saunders

That afternoon, activity had really picked up. The street was shut down in preparation for a wine stroll that evening. At this point, we could set up anywhere in the street and not worry about the traffic. I set to work painting another street scene.

Artists painting in the midst of the wine stroll.

As I painted, the wine stroll began, and the town came to life. It wasn't just the wine that brought everyone to the event. There was a genuine interest in the art and its place in capturing the charm of Marceline. Small towns can be taken for granted. We often drive right through them and fail to notice the history that's still right in front of us. An event like this both documents and celebrates their beauty for everyone.

I was honored to win a purchase award from Yocom Jewelry.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Telluride Plein Air Experience

I'm a month late with this, but it's been one hell of a busy month with the launch of our PleinAirStreaming adventure.

For the week of the Fourth of July, I was honored to have been juried into the 2015 Telluride Plein Air Festival. Kimberly and I packed up the gear and drove from Kansas City to Colorado for a week of painting and photography. The drive itself was a beautiful experience, and driving into Telluride for the first time is almost unbelievable. What other town sports a waterfall at the end of their main drag?
Telluride looking east.
We got up bright and early on Monday morning and headed all the way to the east end of the town where I started on my first painting of the Pandora Mill. We were there before the sun had cleared the mountains, and knowing the background would light up as time passed, I focused on blocking in the mill.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Within a couple of hours, the sun cleared the mountain and the mill was framed nicely by the landscape behind it.

One painting down, time to find the next subject.

We decided to take the gondola up the mountain and check out the view. The view of the town and surrounding area from atop the mountain is amazing, and I came to respect the effects of altitude for the first time in my life.
Telluride from above. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
I started plein air painting two years ago, when a friend gave me a Julian French Easel. These are the classic plein air easels that have been around for over a century. It was a great gift, and without it, I might never have pursued plein air. French easels do have one major drawback - weight. We exited the gondola and made our way to a higher point, but by the time we got there, I was beat. Had to take a break and hydrate before I could get started. The French easel has since been retired, but that's another story.
Painting the St. Sophia Nature Center with my soon to be retired French easel.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
I focused on the St. Sophia Nature Center framed in by the mountains beyond the town. The light changes fast on a day with this much cloud activity, so I found myself painting and repainting areas as the time passed.
"St. Sophia Nature Center" (oil on canvas, 12"x16").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
The next day we had adjusted to the altitude enough that I finally hit my stride. We found a beautiful creek that flowed on the north side of the town. It was midday, but the light through the trees created a beautiful scene. This painting started coming together right away.
Painting Cornet Creek
"Cornet Creek" (oil on board, 12"x16").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Thursday morning was the quick draw, and I decided to focus on some poppies I found near the center of town. While we had two hours, this one came together in only an hour.
"Red Poppies" in progress
"Red Poppies" (oil on board, 9"x12").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
Immediately following the quick draw, a live auction was held across from the Sheridan Opera House, and the Poppies painting sold.
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
The winning bidder. Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
That evening was the awards ceremony, and every artist had to choose one painting to submit for judging by their peers. I chose the painting of Cornet Creek, and I'm proud to say my fellow artists awarded me 3rd place.
Artist Choice winners (left to right) - Patrick Saunders (3rd), Carl Bretzke (1st), John Lasater (2nd).
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
The sale took place over the next three days, but I continued painting during the show.

"Wild Onions" (oil on canvas, 12"x16"). Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

"Mia" (oil on canvas, 9"x12").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
All in all, it was a great week. I even walked away with a commission based on my winning piece. I didn't have time to paint it during the show, so thankfully, Kimberly was willing to hike back up Cornet Creek and grab plenty of reference photos for me.
"Upper Cornet Creek" (oil on board, 12"x16").
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.
It wasn't just the opportunity to participate in the event that made the week memorable. The travel, landscape, and the wildlife - deer came by our window every day - all came together to make it a unique experience. We're looking forward to returning to Telluride in the future with the Airstream, of course!
Photo courtesy of Saunders Fine Arts.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Immortality of Paint

I've always sought a way to express myself, not so much for others to take notice, but to feel like my existence meant something in this world. I played in a number of bands when I was younger, thinking that someday I might write the perfect song that expressed me, but it was painting that I found to be the much more personal form of expression. Paintings are not just images, but a record of our experiences, conveying our connections to people, places and emotions.

In 1998, Kimberly and I added to our family. No, we don't have children in the traditional sense, but Ken and Barbie became the children that we doted on in the absence of human kids.
Ken & Barbie getting a bit too heavy for the table.
They added an immense amount of empathy to our lives, and gave as much as they got. The family continued to grow in 1999 when we adopted Dignan and Opal who were abandoned in a dumpster in Kansas City.
Opal & Dignan
In 2000, Barney and Betty joined us bringing our family to 8 souls living in a 1920s former farmhouse in Overland Park, KS.
The big babies, Barney & Betty
For 15 years, our lives revolved around the family, and every decision was influenced by every one of these wonderful creatures. Have you ever tried to find an apartment in New York City with 4 cats and 2 dogs? It is possible with some creativity. San Francisco wasn't much easier, but at least our walks involved a beautiful beach and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Golden Gate Park
I started painting members of the family while still in the house in Kansas. It started with Opal. We had an empty bedroom that we never used, but she liked hanging out in there all by herself. The way the light splashed on the floor made her look all the more beautiful, and this was the first image I created after leaving my job at Hallmark Cards to pursue painting as a career. I remember that during the painting process, I was glued to the television as war broke out with Iraq, making me wonder if I could survive as a painter. The painting sold almost immediately, and even though it went to a great home, I was torn about letting it go. It seems that I had a similar emotional connection to the painting, just as I did to our fur kids.
"Opal's Room" (oil on canvas, 20"x30")

Over the years, I painted portraits of each of our family members. Barney and Betty were a struggle. There was just so much personality in each of them, that it was hard to capture in just one painting.
"Betty" (oil on canvas, 30"x40")
"Barney" (oil on canvas, 30"x40")

Dignan, the loner, was a portrait of beauty emerging form the dark around him.
"Dignan" (oil on canvas, 16"x30")

Barbie was a mix of pride and defiance.
"Barbie" (oil on board, 27"x19")

Ken developed over the course of an hour, his personality concentrated in his continuous stare.
"Ken" (oil on canvas, 12"x9")
In 2011, Opal was diagnosed with cancer, and given only a matter of months to live. We were in San Francisco at the time, and she loved to lounge around on her bed in front of her favorite window. I painted a new portrait of her to replace the one that was sold year ago. Against the odds, she lived another 2 years. I was glad to have the portrait hanging in our living room. It always made me feel that Opal was still with us.
"Opal In the Window" (oil on canvas, 19"x28")
As our family passed on, the portraits on the walls keep them in our hearts. Dignan passed from kidney failure in 2014. Barney's heart gave out in 2015, and one week later, Betty left us as a result of kidney failure.

When I say our lives revolved around them, it's not at all an exaggeration. Every morning, rain or shine, 100º or -20º, the dogs took Kimberly and I to the park at the crack of dawn. They lay at my feet as I painted and even attended classes with me. The cats were no different. Ken and Opal fought to be in our laps whenever I sat at my computer. Barbie demanded that I carry her cradled like a baby at least once a day. Dignan craved both attention and his space at the same time. We bought a king size bed, so that all eight of us could fit - for many years it's seemed as if Kimberly and I slept in separate rooms as animals pushed us apart, stretching out their own space on the bed.

Now, it's just Barbie. She still gets us up in the morning, but there's no longer the mad scramble of 24 feet running to the kitchen. Every morning, I pass by the paintings of all the kids as I get Barbie's food (and numerous meds) together. I have to admit that there's a certain comfort in seeing each of them in the mornings. I even reach out to touch the dogs heads in the paintings, scratching them between the eyes with a loving "good morning."

I cherish these paintings. I know that just as all things are temporary, these paintings will one day be gone. The canvas will rot, the varnish will yellow and the paint layers will crumble. Before any of that happens, myself and everyone that I know will long have turned to dust. I don't find sadness in this, but rather joy that these paintings continue to remind me of the times I shared with these lovely beings. Paintings aren't just images, they are packed with emotions and memories we want to revisit again and again. Compared to all of us, paint is seemingly immortal.

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.