The Wild Story Behind that Timberline Falls Painting

The Salon-winning painting that is featured on the current issue of PleinAir Magazine almost didn’t make down the mountain at Plein Air Rockies last year. Here’s the full story:

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls on the July 2017 cover of PleinAir Magazine

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls on the July 2017 cover of PleinAir Magazine

I always do a lot of research on painting sites before I travel to an event. I’d seen photos of Timberline Falls before I traveled to Plein Air Rockies last year, and I knew it would be on my shortlist of painting subjects if I happened to have a full day free of thunderstorms. Luckily I did have a clear day about a week into the event, so I was able to plan the nearly ten-mile roundtrip hike with the falls in mind. Most falls in the RMNP are found along streams in ravines, but Timberline Falls is unusual in that it cascades down a rock face out in the open, the light on it unobstructed by trees. I wanted to capture the early morning light that catches the mist on the crest of the falls.

Painting Timberline Falls (Photo: John Crandall)

Painting Timberline Falls (Photo: John Crandall)

I had to hike five miles with some significant elevation gain to get to Timberline Falls, so I started before dawn. It should have been a slightly shorter hike, but both parking lots near the trailhead were full even before sunrise! Hence some extra trail mileage.

The Loch

The Loch

After passing some beautiful scenes at the Loch below the falls, I arrived at Timberline Falls around 9am and spent a long time on my sketch - I knew I’d need some good guidance for my painting once the shadows on the rocks changed.

My sketch and notes for the painting

My sketch and notes for the painting

I probably started painting around 9:30am, then painted straight through until 3pm. I knew I wasn’t going to get a chance to return (we had afternoon thunderstorms every other day of the event) and so I tried to achieve a high level of finish in one marathon session. I think the pressure of “no return” helped me focus more intensely—I knew I couldn’t hike all the way up there and back and make a dud!

Finished: Bright Morning, Timberline Falls (2016), Oil on linen panel, 18 x 14 in. plein air

Finished: Bright Morning, Timberline Falls (2016), Oil on linen panel, 18 x 14 in. plein air

The real adventure happened on the return trip. I remember marveling at how smoothly the day had gone as I packed up my supplies and prepared for the hike back down. Even though I didn’t have the correct size of panel carrier, I was prepared—I’d picked up some twine at a hardware store the night before and planned to tie the wet painting to the back of my pack facing out. Once it was secure I started down the trail, knowing I’d have to take care to avoid falling or brushing against stray foliage. I wasn’t counting on outside intervention, though…

About halfway down the mountain I came across a tourist couple taking photos of an elk calf a little off the trail. A quick glance told me the cow elk was not happy about it. She was bristling and snorting, staring them down with a look that could kill. (They were oblivious.) I shouted at them to get back on the trail and away from the calf; fortunately they listened, scooted off in a hurry, and then disappeared down the trail ahead.

That left me in a bit of a pickle since my only way down the mountain ran ten feet from where the cow and calf still stood. I decided to wait it out a while until they moved away uphill, far enough off the path that I thought I could pass by along the trail without alarming them.

I was wrong. A moment after I passed the spot where the tourists had gone off the trail, I heard brush crackling and looked back to see the cow elk on the trail right behind me. I kept walking quickly and didn’t look at her again…hoping against hope that she would realize I wasn’t threatening her calf. A bunch of things were running through my mind during the long minutes that followed. I was mad at those tourists. I was trying not to think of a documentary I’d just watched with my two-year-old, Sam, in which we’d seen a mother elk successfully (and somewhat violently) defend her calf from a pack of wolves. And, tellingly, it occurred to me that my painting was immediately facing the elk—that if she ended up making any physical contact, it would likely be destroyed. I’m still not sure why that seemed so significant at the time, but I guess I liked the painting!

After what seemed an eternity, she slowed her pace and appeared to calm down. I took a blurry photo of her over my shoulder without turning my head:

Shortly after that, she turned around to go back to her calf.

All in all, I was relieved to reach my car at the end of that hike—both I and the painting were miraculously intact.

A Big Surprise at the Plein Air Convention in San Diego

A few weeks before the start of this year’s Plein Air Convention in San Diego, I received a cryptic phone call at 6pm on a Friday. The caller was PleinAir Magazine’s editor Steve Doherty. He suggested that I try to make it to San Diego since I was one of the finalists in their annual Salon competition. (The previous month, judge Erik Koeppel had given a nod to two of my paintings in the final bimonthly competition, making them eligible for the annual competition, too.) I remember doing some quick math as I wondered whether Steve was calling all of the finalists who hadn’t yet registered to attend the convention...or if I'd possibly won an award of some sort.

I went ahead and booked a flight thanks to a Frontier Airlines sale, thinking I didn’t have anything to lose by going—and plenty to gain even if I did go home empty-handed after the Salon awards. I’d wanted to experience the convention since I’d attended my first regional plein air festival in 2014. With around a thousand attendees and faculty, the Plein Air Convention is the largest gathering of plein air and landscape painters in the world.

It didn’t disappoint! I arrived a day early and painted at Pacific Beach and La Jolla Cove. The latter was particularly fun thanks to the presence of sea lions barking on the rocks right below my easel. I took a pause from painting to video call my two-year-old son, who was transfixed by the scene.

La Jolla Cove (2017) Oil on linen panel, 9 x 12 in. plein air

La Jolla Cove (2017) Oil on linen panel, 9 x 12 in. plein air

The real shock came at the opening night of the convention on Monday, which culminated in Eric Rhoads reading off the annual Salon award winners. I was sitting next to Melanie Thompson, a brilliant painter from eastern Washington, as she was called up for her award. As Eric progressed through the 3rd Place and 2nd place announcements, I remember thinking, “Ah well—I’m glad I didn’t get my hopes up too much!”

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls (2016) Oil on linen panel, 18 x 14 in. plein air

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls (2016) Oil on linen panel, 18 x 14 in. plein air

All told, I was in genuine shock a second later when an image of Bright Morning, Timberline Falls flickered onto the screen as the Grand Prize winner. (Melanie had to bump me to get me moving towards the stage.) I don’t believe there are words to adequately describe how moving it was to look out at the crowd—a sea of immensely devoted fellow artists—and see them applauding my work. Just know the moment was surreal enough that I left the stage without the awards package and then had to jog back for it.

With Eric Rhoads and the requisite "big check"

With Eric Rhoads and the requisite "big check"

I was on cloud nine for the remainder of the week, but not just because of the Salon prize. I got to watch several lectures and demonstrations each day by artists whose work I’ve followed for years. Jill Carver, Quang Ho, James Gurney, Roos Schuring, and Jeremy Lipking all spoke or demonstrated on the main stage—and I’m glad I took extensive notes during their presentations since I’ll revisit them often.

Jill Carver controls values in light/shadow areas by drawing a line on her palette.

Jill Carver controls values in light/shadow areas by drawing a line on her palette.

In terms of immediate application, Mike Hernandez’s demo was among my favorites since he emphasized using warm shadows rather than cooling shadows as artists are wont to do. (Guilty as charged!) He also showed how he doesn’t overmix his colors, which means his brushstrokes feature colors that are marbleized and vivid.

Mike Hernandez demo

Mike Hernandez demo

Those two things (warm shadows and marbleized brushstrokes) really stuck in my head as we all headed out to Point Loma on the last day to paint at Cabrillo National Monument. Here’s my painting of the tide pools there:

Morning, Point Loma (2017), Oil on linen panel, 11 x 14 in. plein air

Morning, Point Loma (2017), Oil on linen panel, 11 x 14 in. plein air

This painting—one of my favorite plein air paintings I’ve done—sold right away to my roommate at the convention, a fellow painter from North Carolina. It marked a great end to an unforgettable week.

Painting at Point Loma (Photo: fellow artist Jack Dant)

Painting at Point Loma (Photo: fellow artist Jack Dant)

Once in a Hundred Years: Painting the Rockies During the Parks Centennial

[Article appeared originally in Outdoor Painter]

This year, artists at Plein Air Rockies enjoyed the honor of painting the park during the exact centennial of the National Park Service on August 25. When a brief hailstorm forced me to take cover that day, I walked into a ranger station just in time to see a cake delivery and join in an enthusiastic singing of “Happy Birthday” to the National Parks.

The centennial celebrations reminded me of the critical role artists played in moving public will toward the parks’ creation. Thomas Moran’s name will always be associated with Yellowstone, while Charlie Russell painted Glacier from his lodge on McDonald Lake and Charles Partridge Adams explored the beauty of the Rockies from his studio in Estes Park. “I see you’re carrying on the tradition!” said one visitor when he saw my easel. (I had unknowingly set up just yards from a sign spelling out the entwined histories of artists and the parks.) It’s a rich legacy to carry on, and for me, painting in the park felt like the landscape artist’s equivalent of walking on hallowed ground.

Kathleen B. Hudson painting at Timberline Falls. Photo by John Crandall

Kathleen B. Hudson painting at Timberline Falls. Photo by John Crandall

In honor of Adams, the Cultural Arts Council of Estes Park added another award to the lineup this year. Judges David Santillanes and Carol Jenkins chose Olena Babak’s “Moment of Enchantment” for the inaugural Charles Partridge Adams Award for a painting that best captures the character of the Rockies. Fittingly, Babak spent the first several days of the two-week event hiking instead of painting so that she could get to know the area. “So much of this place was a snapshot of everything I’d seen when hiking around,” said Babak. “The mountain ridge that you can see through the trees, the tall, candle-like sub-alpine ferns at different stages of their life cycle, the mountain river with numerous waterfalls and giant granite boulders … this place felt remote and pure with all of the distinct character of the Rockies.”

“Moment of Enchantment,” by Olena Babak, 2016, oil, 20 x 16 in. Charles Partridge Adams Award

“Moment of Enchantment,” by Olena Babak, 2016, oil, 20 x 16 in. Charles Partridge Adams Award

I likewise found my favorite painting subject mid-hike — in the middle of a nine-mile hike, actually. I had seen some photos of Timberline Falls and decided to risk one of few fully thunderstorm-free painting days on my hope that it would yield a decent painting. I arrived at the falls, huffing and puffing a bit, and was not disappointed. In hindsight, I think the pressure of doing a longer hike with the painting gear actually served as a motivator for me. (I couldn’t go all the way there and make a dud, right?) On my hike back down I had to strap the painting to the outside of my pack and hope for the best. In the end, my gamble paid off; I was honored when “Bright Morning, Timberline Falls” was awarded Third Place and sold.

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil, 18 x 14 in. Third Place

Bright Morning, Timberline Falls,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil, 18 x 14 in. Third Place

Jason Sacran won Best of Show and People’s Choice for “Morning Magic,” a vivid, painterly interpretation of early sunlight on Adams Falls in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Sacran arrived with his family and had only a few days to paint, but — true to form — managed to pull together a stunner of a painting.

Jason Sacran received Best of Show for "Morning Magic," 18 x 24, oil

Jason Sacran received Best of Show for "Morning Magic," 18 x 24, oil

Neal Hughes, who won both First Place and Artists’ Choice for his painting “Old Pine,” was en route to Sprague Lake when his subject grabbed his attention. “I guess you could say I was heading for a lake when this wizard-like tree cast a spell on me,” he said. “It was its age and the way that the gnarly branches are reaching out with a play of light, where they become negative and positive shapes, that made it interesting to me.”

“Old Pine,” by Neal Hughes, 2016, oil, 16 x 20 in. First Place and Artists’ Choice

“Old Pine,” by Neal Hughes, 2016, oil, 16 x 20 in. First Place and Artists’ Choice

Second Place overall and Allen Award winner Lon Brauer made the most of his first time at Plein Air Rockies — in fact, it was his first time ever painting mountains. Like Hughes, Brauer found his muse for “House on the Rock” when he was on his way somewhere else. “I stumbled upon Ward, Colorado, on my way to another destination and ultimately spent the better half of a week painting there,” Brauer said. “I found the dwellings perched tenaciously on the hills similar to mountain goats holding on to a rock face.” Brauer emphasized a strong dark-light pattern in his composition. He sought to use “House on a Rock” to encapsulate his reading of Ward’s character: “I saw the mixture of architectural style as a visual metaphor for the eclectic personality and independent spirit of this delightful community.”

“House on the Rock,” by Lon Brauer, 2016, oil, 20 x 20 in. Second Place and the Allen Award

“House on the Rock,” by Lon Brauer, 2016, oil, 20 x 20 in. Second Place and the Allen Award

In the Quick Draw, Jason Sacran won First Place, Neal Hughes won Second, and Michael Clark took Third. Larry DeGraff won Best Miniature.

Painting in Glacier National Park

[Article originally appeared in Outdoor Painter]

If it’s not already on there, you might want to add Glacier National Park to your bucket list of painting locations.

I still remember my first glimpse of Glacier Park. I was 8 years old, and my intrepid grandfather let me ride shotgun on a month-long road trip through the American West. He spontaneously burst out in song as he rounded a corner on the park’s famous Going to the Sun Road, but I didn’t wonder why: Before us stretched a vista for which no photograph or park documentary could have prepared me. It took my breath away. Ridge after ridge faded into the blue distance, each line reflected perfectly on the glassy surface of St. Mary’s Lake. I tried to sear the view into my mind so I’d never forget it.

“Morning at St. Mary’s Lake,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil on linen, 14 x 18 in.

“Morning at St. Mary’s Lake,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil on linen, 14 x 18 in.

Inspired by that memory and last year’s “Timeless Legacy” exhibition of women artists in Glacier, I returned to the park last month to join 29 other artists for Plein Air Glacier, a festival hosted by the Hockaday Museum in Kalispell, Montana. We ventured into Glacier on June 25 for five days of painting.

The distinctive look of Glacier’s landscape struck me as a child, but I appreciate it even more now as a plein air painter. The valleys in the park are U-shaped, forming massive parabolas, because glaciers carved them wide and deep. (Rivers and streams carve characteristic V-shaped valleys instead.) The 150 glaciers that originally formed the mountainsides in Glacier National Park also left behind hanging valleys, which launch dramatic waterfalls like Bird Woman Falls hundreds of feet below during the summer melt-off.

Plein air artists always operate with a sense of urgency required by changing light and weather conditions. But to paint in Glacier is to be aware of time’s impact in a deeper way: Scientists predict that the 25 remaining glaciers in the park will melt and cease moving within the next 14 years. I reflected on this often as I wandered and painted in the park. As an artist I was bearing witness to the end of an era in this landscape: Glaciers, the active sculptors of this terrain for thousands of years, would soon grow still and vanish.

“Bird Woman Falls,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil, 12 x 9 in.

“Bird Woman Falls,” by Kathleen B. Hudson, 2016, oil, 12 x 9 in.

It was timely for me to hear Linda Tippetts emphasize the importance of action words in Native American place names as she led a demo at Running Eagle Falls. “I love that these names have movement in them,” she said. “After all, the elements in the landscape are always moving, never static.” That’s certainly true of the diverse landscape in Glacier Park, but artists have a limited window to capture some of the last glimmers of movement from the glaciers themselves.

Painting at Avalanche Creek Gorge

Painting at Avalanche Creek Gorge

 

Aside from Tippetts’s demo, I only encountered a few artists inside the park. (It’s a large place!) But California transplant Jeff Troupe and I found a common muse in the Avalanche Creek Gorge near one of Glacier’s most popular hiking trails. Meanwhile, artists Jeff Manion and Kenneth Yarus hiked deeper into the wilderness to capture views unseen from the roads. Manion noted that a bear passed by within a stone’s throw of his easel at one point.

On June 30, all 30 artists came into Kalispell to drop off work at the Hockaday Museum in time for the evening’s show and sale. Collectors turned out in droves that night; the museum hired a bluegrass band and catered the event while artists swapped stories about their adventures in the park.

"Early Light on Avalanche Creek Gorge," 16 x 8 in., oil

"Early Light on Avalanche Creek Gorge," 16 x 8 in., oil

As the other artists and I took down some remaining paintings after the show, I found myself looking at the distant mountains and wishing I could head right back into the park the next morning. For me, there’s no clearer sign that a place has captured my imagination and sense of wonder.

Lighthouse Plein Air Festival

[Note: Article appeared originally in Outdoor Painter.]

In its third year, the Lighthouse Plein Air Festival featured expanded painting locations along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Fifty juried artists from across the United States and abroad converged on Martin and Palm Beach counties to paint the beaches, public parks, a formal sculpture garden, a historic fishing village, and a vast inland park with characteristic Florida flora and fauna.

 The festival is on the shorter side, with three days of painting plus the Sunday Quick Draw, so several artists arrived early to scope out the painting locations in advance. I used Google Maps with a satellite view in order to take in the terrain beforehand — I can usually tell where I’ll find dense foliage, see sunrises or sunsets over water, or where there might be an interesting bend in a river.
 
The artists made the most of the painting time. We braved strong El Niño-year winds (including some 35mph gusts!) at Juno Beach on the first day and many artists carried through dusk each day to paint nocturnes.

George Van Hook, who won the Grand Prize with his painting from Juno Beach, said the sight of the beach and pier above it immediately caught his eye. “I grew up in Pennsylvania, in love with Reginald Marsh’s beach scenes of Coney Island,” he said. “I wanted to combine the geometry of the pier’s structure with the chaos of all the figures.” The artist reported that it worked in his favor to have limited time at the location. He completed a quick study, then created the larger version by buckling down and painting for five hours straight. “It was fun to know I had to do it all at once,” said Hook. “I painted the background, then put in identifiable figures.”

"At the Pier," by George Van Hook, 2016, oil, 12 x 16 in. Grand Prize

"At the Pier," by George Van Hook, 2016, oil, 12 x 16 in. Grand Prize

Van Hook found the volunteers from the Lighthouse ArtCenter indispensible during these marathon painting sessions. “I’ve never been to an event so delightfully organized, both the gallery and the field volunteers. They were at our beck and call the whole time, at every location.” This was true — while I painted a giant banyan tree on successive mornings at Riverbend Park, volunteers found me and trekked through thick undergrowth every couple of hours to offer me water, oranges, and croissants. One even drove framed paintings back to the gallery to save the artists a trip.
 
Other winners included Carl Bretzke, First Place; Shelby Keefe, Second Place; Jason Sacran, Third Place; and Don Mondloch and Ken DeWaard, Honorable Mention. In the Quick Draw, Richard Sneary won First Place, Nyle Gordon took Second, and Susan Lynn won Third.

Jason Sacran painting a boatyard nocturne

Jason Sacran painting a boatyard nocturne

Jason Sacran created his award-winning painting in Riverbend Park just a few hundred yards from where he painted last year’s Grand Prize-winning piece. “I love Riverbend Park,” he said. “It just screams ‘old Florida,’ and has a wild nature to it that I love. The scene captivated me from the moment I saw it. I enjoyed the contrast of the morning sun hitting the shaded bundle of palm trees, with that great bunch of lit-up foreground dry grass.”

The most popular painting location seemed to be Port Salerno, a fishing harbor initially built in the 1920s by Italian immigrants. A boatyard near the marina inspired Shelby Keefe and Carl Bretzke by day and several more artists by night. John Caggiano was so enamored with a nocturne scene illuminated by the yard’s motion-detector light that he ran over to his subject every few minutes to trip the sensor and continue painting. Carl Bretzke initially joked that he was drawn to the subject of his First Place painting “Fish Truck” because of its smell. “Actually I liked the composition of the truck and shadow together,” he added. “The palm tree still signals a tropical setting and the truck shows an element of real life.”

“Fish Truck,” by Carl Bretzke, 2016, oil, 11 x 14 in. First Place

“Fish Truck,” by Carl Bretzke, 2016, oil, 11 x 14 in. First Place

On the final morning I painted a larger piece from a Port Salerno dock, where a flock of pelicans waited expectantly for the fishing boats to return. I wanted to do a silhouette so I could simplify the shapes of the boats and emphasize the glow of the light reflected on the water. (Simplifying those shapes also meant I’d be in less trouble if the fishermen returned early and needed to use their dock!) An onlooker who had stopped by periodically to watch me paint and talk with me about my creative process ended up buying the painting at the gallery right after I delivered it that afternoon; I was deeply honored to learn that it was her first purchase of a plein air painting.

Painting “Port Salerno Silhouette”

Painting “Port Salerno Silhouette”

In the hours before the packed collector’s gala on Saturday, the Lighthouse ArtCenter staff hung upwards of 300 paintings in their well-lit gallery in Tequesta. The scale of the exhibition was a testament to the artists’ intense focus and the volunteers’ tireless support — and it helped ignite the interest of local residents in plein air painting. “I’m going home to get out my paints!” said one lady to me during the Quick Draw on Sunday. A young woman approached and told me that we looked like we were having so much fun she was going to overcome her fears and sign up for a plein air painting class that she’d contemplated for several years.
 
Festival Chairman Ted Matz looked back over the event and seemed well pleased. “We expanded our marketing efforts to include television interviews, newspaper inserts, and private VIP parties for collectors, which all proved beneficial as we increased our attendance well over last year,” he said. “Our judge, Jim McVicker, added the credibility to our event that we wanted, and many artists were drawn to our event because of the respect and plein air painting knowledge that he brought to the whole judging process. Who’s going to argue with Jim on his decision?”

Matz concluded by asking for feedback from participating painters. “We are always open to what the artists want and solicit how we might make our festival better each year,” he said. “Their input is very important to us to help them make the best work they can produce.”

Judge Jim McVicker carved out some time to do some painting at the Riverbend Park canoe launch.

Judge Jim McVicker carved out some time to do some painting at the Riverbend Park canoe launch.

For the Sketchbook: A Printable Guide with Common Aspect Ratios

With plein air season approaching, I decided to create a chart that would help me make thumb sketches for the more common standard size painting panels. I buy and pack lots of standard sizes for plein air events for the convenience of it and because standard size frames are much more affordable. 

Many artists use a small sketchbook to make preliminary sketches on location before painting. I almost always allow time for this—it makes a huge difference when I work out the kinks in composition before starting to work in color. I keep a 5.5x8.5" wirebound sketchbook in my pack; I'm not picky on brand since I only use it for preliminary studies.

After doing really loose sketches for a while, I thought it would be helpful to create compositions a bit more carefully with my panel sizes in mind. I've traditionally just 'guesstimated' the size of a thumb sketch, but it's never right on the mark—and I don't really want to fuss with a ruler or anything that'll add weight to my pack. 

After a little time with a calculator and Adobe Photoshop, voila!...here's my printable guide for some common sizes, plus some that I might make when I finally start preparing my own panels. I thought I'd share it in case anyone else found it useful. Truth be told, I did a little googling to see if anyone else had published something like this before I dove into Photoshop. (No dice.)

Printable Aspect Ratio Guide - JPEG

Printable Aspect Ratio Guide - PSD (only for those who want to edit in Adobe Photoshop)

If you print it at 100% size, it fits neatly within a 5x8" sketchbook. You can size it up or down depending on the typical size of your field studies. 

Sketch Grid

To use it, I've cut it along the outside lines and can make hash marks along the edges of my intended panel size (note the square sketch behind the printed guide in the photo above). Of course, I always have to option to change it partway through a sketch if I wind up thinking a different aspect ratio would work better. 

Hope that helps! Happy sketching—and painting.

Year in Review, Part II: Augusta

A few days after I returned home from New Harmony, John Lasater got in touch with a recommendation for me—he thought I would enjoy painting at the Augusta Plein Air Festival in Augusta, MO. It's a marathon event (at 12 days it might be the longest plein air festival in existence), and the organizers go to great lengths to welcome artists. They offer housing with host families plus quite a few meals, courtesy of local businesses who love seeing artists draw inspiration from the beautiful town and its surrounding countryside.

I signed up, and as I was a little late to the game, I nearly missed out on getting a host family...but mercifully the housing coordinator herself invited me to make use of her (fully finished) basement for the duration of the festival. 

Squinting into the sun while painting my first piece at Augusta during a sunrise. Note the major easel upgrade—it's a Strada easel and I am thrilled with it.

Squinting into the sun while painting my first piece at Augusta during a sunrise. Note the major easel upgrade—it's a Strada easel and I am thrilled with it.

The very first artist I met was Michele Wells, a gifted pastel painter from near St. Louis. Her aesthetic is fairly similar to mine (she loves atmospherics and creates beautiful tonal work), so we ended up painting together frequently during the rest of the festival. I finished two paintings the first day and submitted one to the first daily competitiona purchase prize at Augusta Shores.

Check out that highly sophisticated wet painting storage system I use: cardboard frame boxes FTW.

Check out that highly sophisticated wet painting storage system I use: cardboard frame boxes FTW.

The second piece won the first purchase award. I was both grateful and amazed...I came to Augusta hoping to have an adventure, but I was managing my expectations on the competition front. (I came away from New Harmony pretty empty-handed with regard to prizes and art sales, so I knew the same thing could happen again.) I certainly didn't anticipate hearing my name on Day 1 of the event! 

A couple of days into the Augusta plein air festival, several artists joined John Lasater and Jason Sacran, both from Arkansas, as they ventured to nearby Washington, MO to paint nocturnes. John and Jason are both dab hands when it comes to nocturnes (and have plenty of prizes to show for it). They used a creative system of book lights to illuminate their paintings in progress. I don't have a photo of that, but I did document the way the rest of us went about our paintings using headlamps:

A few more memorable painting adventures in Augusta...

1) Painting on a flat field ahead of a storm was a challenge. It was so windy, I couldn't even paint using the new easel...so I had to use my car as a wind shield and weight down my larger easel with a full backpack. Whenever the wind changed direction I'd have to park at a different angle and move my easel!

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

2) I saw this barn and immediately wanted to paint it. Trouble was, no one was around...so I ended up setting up my easel on the side of the road, only partially on the property of the landowner. Fortunately someone drove up not long after and was okay with my painting location.

Trespassing? My block-in of The Old Barn.

Trespassing? My block-in of The Old Barn.

3) I was a little unprepared for a 30-degree day at the beginning of May, so when our paintout hosts started a bonfire, I knew exactly where I wanted to set up my easel!

Staying warm. There was a downside to this spot, though: a few minutes after a fellow artist snapped this photo, my sketchbook took a dive into the firepit! Oops.

Staying warm. There was a downside to this spot, though: a few minutes after a fellow artist snapped this photo, my sketchbook took a dive into the firepit! Oops.

4) On the last day of the festival, I still hadn't managed to paint a sunrise since Day 1. It had been overcast almost every morning, which made it impossible for me to paint a scene (any scene!) at my favorite time of day...sunrises are wonderful because you can develop your light in a painting around the specific moment in a given sunrise that had the most evocative, beautiful effect on the landscape. I'd feel the same way about sunsets, but sunrises possess a distinct advantage: instead of fighting against time, losing the light you need as a sunset progresses, daylight only gets brighter following a sunrise. That gives you a lot more time to create a beautiful painting, though you do still have to work quickly!

So when the forecast showed that the sun would be visible on the final day of Augusta, I knew I'd have just one chance to paint a landscape during the sunrise. I actually scouted out my location using Google Maps. I had a vision for a painting of the Missouri River, with the sunrise above it reflected in a pronounced bend in the river. (There had to be a place like this, right?) So I checked for a potential spot by using the satellite view setting on Google Maps--I needed a higher vantage point on the south shore of the river, looking eastward toward a upward bend in the river's course. Luckily for me there was a church building on a bluff outside Washington, MO. I drove there at 5 in the morning and set up shop behind the church. (Also luckily for me, the pastor there had an art degree and was very supportive of my painting on their property.)

My initial wash and block-in for Sunrise Over the Missouri.

My initial wash and block-in for Sunrise Over the Missouri.

I finished the painting on a tight schedule since I had to be back at Augusta, about 40 minutes away, for the Artists' Choice voting at noon...and I had to have a painting ready and framed. I was pleased with the result and very glad I'd done my research on the location....finding the right subject to paint is half the battle.

Sunrise Over the Missouri, Oil on linen, 12 x 16 in.  |  Private Collection

Sunrise Over the Missouri, Oil on linen, 12 x 16 in.  |  Private Collection

I ended up deciding to use this painting as my submission for Artist's Choice (It got third) and as one of my two submissions to the final show competition the next day. I hadn't initially planned on doing a 12 x 16 inch piece, but fortunately I'd swapped frames earlier in the week with Jason Sacran, who was in need of a spare 12 x 12 inch frame in a different finish for a beautiful painting of some backlit aspens. His spare framed worked perfectly on the sunrise painting.

To my surprise and joy, the jurors awarded Sunrise Over the Missouri Best of Show for the festival. It was a huge honor because of the sheer volume of amazing works created during the long festival...I loved seeing so many of them on display during the final exhibition. 

The jurors at Augusta, along with fellow artists I met during the week, gave me a real boost of confidence in what the future holds for me as an artist. My identity certainly rests in something deeper and more permanent than any painting I could createthat is the love of Christ. But painting is deeply important to me, and ever since I've been pursuing a vocation in art full-time, one of the biggest challenges has been the constant question of "Will this actually work?" 

It was a true gift to realize that "Yes, it might!"

Year in Review, Part I: New Harmony

I have been embarrassingly slow to update this blog (apologies!). It certainly wasn't because nothing happened in 2014...last year was a great year for me in terms of artistic growth, new experiences, and new friendships.

Last year brought a couple of firsts. In April, an advertisement for a plein air event caught my eye because it was relatively close to where I live. The event was the Hoosier Salon's "First Brush of Spring" in New Harmony, IN. The only issue was that it started the next day—but I registered, booked a hotel room in a nearby town (New Harmony's B&Bs were already full), and drove to the Indiana the next day with paints in tow. I didn't know what to expect since I'd never taken part in a multi-day plein air event before.

As it turned out, I loved it. I think I'd always conceptualized painting as a somewhat solitary thing. When I'm painting in my studio, I'm usually alone—I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or music so things don't get too quiet. And I've taken paints outdoors on many occasions, but again, I always painted by myself. (I can attribute some of this to my background as a mostly self-taught artist...I imagine most art students have a group of fellow painters they can call upon for paintouts!) Painting alongside large groups of other artists in New Harmony was such a joy. I learned a great deal from seeing how other artists approached the same scenes I was painting; I got some good tips on outdoor painting supplies, too. I quickly realized I needed a new easel...whenever the wind blew, I had to hold down my $29 metal one with my left hand and balance my palette on my left forearm...which left me just inches from the painting. (This is a problem since it's imperative to stand back from a painting regularly to check the composition and values.) Finally John Lasater, a phenomenal artist from Siloam Springs, AR, took pity on me and improved my setup a bit by weighting down the easel with a loaded backpack:

Painting in progress. Note the backpack hanging on the easel to act as a counterweight so it didn't blow over....

Painting in progress. Note the backpack hanging on the easel to act as a counterweight so it didn't blow over....

Each night, many of the artists in town gathered at one of New Harmony's three pubs. And they didn't just talk shop! My favorite memory of the week was probably the sight of Quang Ho, Rick Wilson, and a few other musically-minded painters undertaking a spontaneous jam session.

Rick Wilson (left) and Quang Ho (right) break out their guitars. I didn't meet the artist in the center, but he was a fantastic mandolin player!

Rick Wilson (left) and Quang Ho (right) break out their guitars. I didn't meet the artist in the center, but he was a fantastic mandolin player!

New Harmony proved to be a wonderful introduction to plein air events for me. It certainly left me excited to do more festivals and meet more artists! Here's my collection of paintings from the three days I spent in New Harmony: