Plein Air Painting IS the New Golf ~ Find Out Why!

plein air painting in gloucester, VA

Why are an increasing number of Americans turning into outdoor painters?

 ~ is it the thrill of the greens, blue water, lavender skies, purple shadows, golden sunrises and red sunsets?

Is your palette filled with lush colors that excite your imagination?

An artist yearns for color, to swing a brush, to excite the thrill with the ebb & flow of creative play.

Afraid of dropping it in the bunker? Fear you might not know enough?

Like golf, all it takes is a willingness to swing freely without obsessing over every stroke. Even the pros know there’s always something new to learn and a bunker with your name on it.

They also know it’s a great way to relax and release stress, get some sun and fresh air, go home with a new vantage point on life.

plein air painting sites
The formal gardens at Goshen in mid March give subtle hints of color and light to come. Crepe myrtles and hydrangea brown in March will be alive with color come the end of May when the artists arrive to paint.

Like golf tournaments, plein air painting competitions are all the rage from Easton, Maryland to Door County, Wisconsin and California. On a recent outing, my friend Carolyn Dudley and I were previewing sites for the upcoming Gloucester Arts Festival Plein Air Painting Competition.

Watching the pros paint with an economy of brush strokes is an inspiring thing to behold. And like golf, it is proper etiquette to hush while they do their putting.

Not to disturb Carolyn’s inspiration, I kept my distance and quietly snapped a few photos while she puttered her way around the bronze woman in the garden. Notice how Carolyn’s form is similarly posed as her model?

plein air painting in gloucester County, VA
Notice how Carolyn is kneeling? Contact with Nature helps assure a good outcome. By kneeling she grounds her creative energy, helping to maintain a clear connection to the source of inspiration.

The Vision

We painted at Goshen, a Gloucester County estate on the Ware River, where 20 professional artists from Gary Pendleton’s definitive book, 100 Plein Air Painters of the Mid Atlantic, will paint in May. And the public will be able to watch them during the Gloucester Arts Festival!

Docents will be on hand to answer questions and help folks find the artists as they move their palettes from green to green, hoping to catch just right shot.

Since moving to “the river” in 2000, I have been trying to capture that shot myself ~ that ahaaaa! sigh one feels arriving at the river. What does that feeling look like on canvas? I believe each of us would see it differently. And so with this very special festival, we have a wonderful opportunity to meet the artists and inspire them in creating the first ever, Heart of the River Art Collection.

Putting Around and Discovering You CAN Fly

“Do you want to paint the marshland trails?” Carolyn asks, directing my attention back to the day’s activities.

Yes, but I already have my easel set up in the garden. I want to putt around with this tulip poplar. Just swing a few strokes to get loosened up. Like the putting green, painting a small canvas of a few buds on the tulip poplar got me back in the mode of thinking on the fly.

plein air painting tulip paplar
Tulip Poplar in the Afternoon Sun

Thinking on the Fly

I hadn’t been out of the studio painting since returning from Tuscany over a year ago. I wasn’t sure I wanted to paint this day. Yet I let Carolyn coax me out of my winter doldrums.

Not wanting to carry a lot of paint, I squeezed out colors in the studio. Guessing at which colors I might need, this time of year a lot of earth tones and lavender.

plein air painting
formal garden in spring

Unplanned Grace

I didn’t think about the possibility of finding something in bloom! Good thing I grabbed two tubes of red on my way out the door. Ruby Red and Cadmium Red Light gave me one warm and one cool ~ yet not the truly cold Rubine Lake of the blossoms on this tree.

“Do the best with what you have,” echoed the voice in my head. Keep it simple. “What do you really want to say?”

Taking Your Best Shot

I decided to take a shot at contrasting purple red with yellow gold, purple and yellow are opposite colors. In this case I would be softening them with earth tones.

I took my shot at a simple abstract branch shape to fill a small 8″ x 10″ canvas panel. My canvas was pre-toned with Gold Ochre primer. Without any white canvas to distract my eye, I started with the opposite lavender shape of the tree.

(Yes, I said lavender tree! Painting trains your eyes to see subtleties of grays. I chose to push these grays toward lavender to contrast with the earthy ochre yellows of the pine straw.)

plain air painting
A couple photos so you can see what the camera saw. I saw something different entirely.

Discovering that Something Within

I felt the sunlight. And the smell of the moist earth beneath my feet. The leaves crunched as I stepped back and forth to the easel. Sun dipping lower by the minute, colors of the flowers deepened. Since I didn’t have the Rubine Lake of the blossoms, I responded with the opposite adding more brilliant French Yellow Deep to my Gold Ochre.

Knowing when to stop is something you learn. Creative energy is meant to flow easily. When it starts to feel like a struggle, it’s time to quit. I picked up my easel and moved to another tee.

This is the first in a series, “Plein Air Painting in the New Golf” Follow it and other stories on The Painting Lesson.

Get the next article in this series

If you would enjoy learning more about plein air painting, meeting the pros, find out about my Plein Air Docent Program.

The Gloucester Plain Air Festival starts May 20-21 with a Plein Air Painting Workshop with Hai-Ou Hou, director of Chesapeake Fine Art Studio in Stevensville, Maryland. All artists are invited to join in a Nocturne Paint Out at Little England with Hai-Ou Hou and to paint in Gloucester village at Paint Main 2.5 on Saturday morning, May 27. Come and watch the pros or pick up a brush and join in the fun.

Plein air study by Carolyn Dudley
Plein air study by Carolyn Dudley, oil on canvas

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Some painters want to finish the painting on site. Others prefer to take it back to the studio and putt around with the finishing touches. Still others would rather use plein air as a sketching opportunity.

“I don’t feel the need to finish it. Instead I would like to do several more studies in different times of day, morning light, or perhaps stronger light and shadow,” said Carolyn Dudley about her painting.

“When I look at it I can feel the fresh air and smell the earth in the garden. It takes me back to the exact moment I painted it. I like that! It’s complete the way it is.”

I agree with Carolyn, I relish in the time we spent together painting. I too chose not to tweak my color study in the studio. Still wondered about the simple abstract shape of the tree. So I did another larger experiment in the studio.

Dorothy Fagan abstract floral painting
Tulip Poplar, oil on canvas 40″ x 30″

I was hoping to answer my earlier question, ‘so what do you want to say?’

I wanted to say how I felt about being coaxed out of the winter doldrums by Carolyn. I think this painting says it all. It’s the energy most artists get from the experience of slinging brushes of color at canvas. Exhilarating!

Thanks for coaxing my out of my shell! Let’s go again.

Get the Next Article in this Series

If you would enjoy learning more about plein air painting, meeting the pros, find out about my Plein Air Docent Program.

The Gloucester Plain Air Festival starts May 20-21 with a Plein Air Painting Workshop with Hai-Ou Hou, director of Chesapeake Fine Art Studio in Stevensville, Maryland. All artists are invited to join in a Nocturne Paint Out at Little England with Hai-Ou Hou and to paint in Gloucester village at Paint Main 2.5 on Saturday morning, May 27. Come and watch the pros or pick up a brush and join in the fun.

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Author: Dorothy Fagan

DOROTHY FAGAN'S ART is collected by the Musee de La Grande Vigne, City University of New York, Longwood University Art Museum, Emory University. HEALTHCARE COLLECTIONS U. Mass Memorial Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Camp Lejeune Mental Health Facility, Riverside Cancer Center, Southampton Memorial Hospital. CORPORATE COLLECTIONS General Electric, First National Exchange Bank, International Paper, Monarch Bank, Towne Bank, AAA, Raycom Media, Coldwell Banker. PRIVATE COLLECTIONS in the United States, England, Italy, Singapore, Jordan, Canada.

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