Today is my birthday! I’m sitting in the local Barnes & Noble sipping at an iced coffee and organizing photos of my art. Still recovering from a year of not updating social media. And to make matters worse, I just spent the last few days painting like crazy. I guess that doesn’t really make things worse, but it does mean I have even more to organize. And tomorrow is a plein air meetup day and figure drawing night. At least I’m taking advantage of the summer.
Over the weekend the New Hampshire Art Association had its annual Portsmouth plein air competition: Wet Paint Out Weekend. This was my third year participating. Still can’t believe that. In 2015, when I first participated, I had only done plein air painting a handful of times. I did it in Italy during my study abroad semester and I did it a couple times in the weeks before the competition in order to practice. Now three years later I’ve done quite a bit of plein air painting. I’d say I usually go 10-15 times a summer. Looking back on my previous years I can definitely see the improvement. Maybe in a couple of months, when I have a lull in productivity, I’ll do a retrospective.
Last year I was unable to take full advantage of the three days of the competition due to my job. This year I made sure to get into Portsmouth every day between 7 and 8 and I didn’t leave before 5. I’m still recovering physically. It’s odd how tasking standing in the sun can be. Even when I was in the shade I was constantly moving on my feet. I went to bed every night with a loud sigh as my muscles and bones relaxed.
On Friday I began in beautiful Prescott Park.
About an hour into my painting one of the gardeners came over and told me that they were about to water the flowers and I would get drenched if I remained. It was already incredibly hot out and I weighted the pros and cons and decided I’d sit out for the 45 minutes it would take to water. While I waited I did a pen and ink sketch of another section of the garden. I’m thinking that as I finish up my sketchbooks I’ll do sketchbook tour videos so that I don’t bog down the blog with a bunch of tiny drawings. I’ve been watching different sketchbook tours on youtube and they offer interesting behind the scene views of the artistic process. I find the mistakes and failures just as intriguing as the successes.
Anyway, the above painting took about four hours and offers a cross garden view towards the entry gate. I’ve been thinking more consciously about composition while plein air painting and for this weekend I was specifically focusing on making my paintings contain some sort of window or frame device. So in this painting I used the dark foreground frame of the flowers and trees to create a doorway or window in the distance where the viewer can see a square of sky coming through.
In the afternoon I walked into town and began painting the buildings. The last two years I spent most of my time doing cityscapes and as I worked this year I realized that I am growing tired of painting the red brick. I’ve just done it too much. The painting didn’t turn out too bad, but I wasn’t excited by it. I spent a few hours on it and called it the end of the day.
Saturday I woke up and it was muggy and sunny and I wanted to take advantage of the nice lighting so I walked past Prescott Park and headed towards Peirce Island. Yes, it’s spelled peirce not pierce. Across from Peirce Island is Four Tree Island and I set up on the walkway out. As I blocked in the basic shapes the clouds rolled in and the day became gray. It stayed that way all morning long.
I think the final painting does a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of the morning. Again, I used the foreground to create a frame for the background. I also used the snaking water to lead the viewers eyes to the bridge.
In the afternoon I settled back into Prescott Park and did a small painting. I popped my easel down right next to the flowers and tried a top down view. I was thinking of Cezanne’s close up still lifes as I worked. The painting turned out quite abstract and challenged me to mix a variety of greens, which is something I really struggled with in my early plein air paintings.
Sunday was the final day of the competition and I had until noon to work and then submissions were due. It was a cold and windy morning. I wandered for a little bit and decided I would try another bridge painting since the early morning light was bouncing some nice greens and blues off the steel. As I wandered I walked behind another artist’s van and knew that was what I needed to paint. The back of the van was glowing and I wanted to try to capture its contrast with the surroundings.
I think the final painting is interesting but not the best compositionally. I’m not a fan of the way the trees in the background run into the van and I don’t think I quite captured the entirety of the van’s glow. But because of how cold it was in the wind I finished fast and then went off to submit.
I walked around with my family and my girlfriend and her brother (who also participated in the competition) and we got some food and waited for the final results.
I wound up winning an Honorable Mention for the painting I did that morning! That makes it the third year in a row with an Honorable Mention! Not too shabby I suppose. I keep thinking it would be nice to actually place, but I can’t complain too much. If I’ve been noteworthy to three different jurors I must be doing something right.
Alright, I’m on my second coffee and I’ve been here at Barnes & Noble for a while and I’m starting to get hungry. Time to get birthday pizza or something.