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.
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 competition—a purchase prize at Augusta Shores.
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!
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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 create—that 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!"