Painting en Plein Air at the Publisher’s Invitational
A few days back a friend called to suggest we stop by the 2016 Publisher’s Invitational paint out. This is an annual event put on by the people behind Plein Air Magazine. This year it took place June 12 – 19th. It’s a full week of painting – but we were only down for the day.
And a beautiful day it was! That’s us painting out in the middle of that field.
What makes this gathering of just shy of 100 painters different from a plein air competition or painting workshop is the absence of either of those two kinds of pressure.
There’s no competing, and there’s no teaching.
Rather, people of all skill levels come together, simply for the love of painting all day, sun up to sun down.
Everyone works at their own pace, and self-organizes into car-painters vs. trail hikers, pastoral subjects vs. rugged terrain. All depending on your limits of age, temperament and frankly, amount of gear you bring. I did have a few jocular pokes at the oil painters with their wet panel carriers, wooden easels, umbrellas, deck chairs, palanquins and horse drawn carriages. ;)
At the end of the day everyone gathers at the college to see what they’ve all made that day. Not too different from the sketchcrawls I’m used to.
Our first outing was a quaint little cottage called Heaven Hill Farm. The group had the run of the place, parking up and down the lane and spreading out over the wide lawns.
The tremendous thing about a group like this – you might find yourself next to an atelier trained oil painter carefully glazing a glass-smooth panel, or wading a stream with a modern impressionist carrying a 30×40″ canvas on her head. A beginner can be quite comfortable chatting with a professional painter and you’ll find people with very different backgrounds painting together. Again, not too different from a USK symposium.
There were beautiful mountains all around, but I took the first one easy and quickly sketched the farm house. Nothing too unusual for me here – this is a ‘Three Big Shapes’ sketch- with the negative space between shapes forming the farmhouse.
Mostly I was talking the whole time I should have been painting, chatting about the interesting philosophical differences (and similarities) between Plein Air Painting and Urban Sketching.
Personally, I think it boils down to we’re more likely to use pens and watercolor and they’re often using oils. We tend to draw in spare moments, they tend to set aside entire weekends. Ours is ‘every day carry’, theirs is ‘pack for a military campaign’. We might be bloggers or authors, where they’re more likely to sell in galleries.
But of course, for every typical one of us or them, there’s someone blurring the lines. So really, these two camps are right next door.
At the end of the day – we’re both getting out into the world to see it first hand, and recording an artistic impression of where we’ve traveled.
In the afternoon, they took me a bit further afield. We visited the Flume on the Ausable river, hiking down a rushing river cutting a deep gorge into the landscape. From down below a stack of falls we could look back up at the bridge. Kind of a nice ‘interior’ spot. Like a natural courtyard in the woods.
It was a great deal of fun painting this tumble of rocks and logs. I’ll tell you one thing. When I’m painting an opera house or some such historic building – one tends to feel like things have to basically go where they go.
Out there in the wild, I find it easier to play. You can move any combination of rocks and trees, and nobody is going to be much the wiser.
I’ve done a lot of mental landscaping in this one. Making a design that reads well to me. Bringing the foam of the falls closer to the viewer, and clarifying the steps in the river’s downhill progress. I wanted a feeling of a natural staircase leading to the pool – and a lot of diagonal lines leading the eye inward.
In fact, I couldn’t actually see the upper falls from where I was standing – (we’d come later and there was a row of painters in front of me when I set to). I had to jog a few paces to the right to see the falls, then jump back to my painting and work it from memory.
But anyway! There’s my day with the oil painters out in the woods.
I wish I had spent the entire week. I can imagine by the end of that time they’re feeling tired, but totally tuned up. Your instincts sharpen a bit for every day you can keep a painting streak going.