Sunday, September 23, 2012

Painting on the Road: Plein air competitions

Loaded with gear, scouting a scene to paint

Guerrilla box

Heilman box and tripod
Changing locations, close by

Painting at 2nd location, having walked from 1st
We arrived at the Grand Canyon about a week after participating artists had left the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art invitational "Plein Air on the Rim" event. We were able to view the show, which was very impressive. (One of the bloggers I follow, Michael Chesley Johnson, summarized his experience here.) To be invited to participate in a large high profile event like this one must fill out an application, submit digital examples of work, and be juried in. There's lots of competition. The rewards are great--exposure to an international audience, sales, etc. It goes without saying that to be accepted one must be an accomplished painter; proficiency in plein air painting is a given. These are two distinct and separate skills. It's one thing to paint well in the studio from life, a still life, photograph or imagination, but it's a completely different challenge to paint outside. Where to paint? What to paint? Weather is unpredictable; wind can knock the easel over; the light is constantly changing; passersby can break one's concentration; etc. But even before dealing with those issues, one must get the gear to the site! When car camping, as I'm currently doing, I have two setups, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The main consideration is weight. One of my plein air setups, the lighter-weight alternative, is a 9x12 Guerrilla Pochade box that weighs about 5 lbs. empty. The lid opens up and can be locked into place, and raising an attached mast makes a perfectly satisfactory easel. In the lid, behind the painting support, is a space where I store pre-cut paper, sheets of glassine to protect finished paintings, and an extra piece of foamcore to use as an additional painting support. The Guerrilla box has some storage inside but not enough for a good selection of pastels, so I carry my pastels separately. In this scenario I take Prismacolor Nupastels (more lightweight and less fragile than other brands) that I transport in hard plastic, foam-lined plastic boxes in an ArtBin brand zippered case (no longer available for sale as far as I know). These items fit in my daypack along with paper towels, baby wipes for hand-cleaning, tape, apron, water bottle and other necessaries.  My second plein air setup is much, much heavier but way more satisfying artistically because it holds my fantastic selection of buttery-smooth and deliciously colored soft pastels (primarily Schmincke, Mt Vision, Terry Ludwig, Great American).  The setup here is a Heilman Pastel Box (original size), which holds my pastels.  When opened up flat the box has drilled holes for a painting mast. It also has a tripod coupler (I use an unfortunately heavy but cheap tripod acquired from Goodwill). The third element of this setup is a special paper/painting support holder that I "invented"-- an old Eagle Creek Pack-It-Folder originally used for clothing. It's approximately the same dimensions as the Heilman box (roughly 12x18 and folds up like an envelope with velcro closures). It contains a foamcore painting support, an assortment of paper, and glassine to keep paintings protected. I love it! Although I try to carry my own stuff, due to the additional weight and heft of this second setup I often have to enlist the help of my husband when packing this baby up a steep trail. Some day, I am going to apply to be a participating artist in a big plein air event. In the mean time, I'm going to keep practicing my painting skills-- keep trying to streamline my setup and gear.

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