– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –

A number of factors contributed to how relaxed and loose Patrick Saunders was when he painted an award winner during last week’s Augusta Plein Air Art Festival in Missouri. And Saunders believes being relaxed really helps in making a good painting.

Lead Image: From left, festival official Cindy Haines Kedrowski, judge Steve Morris, Patrick Saunders, and judge Diane Raab

The Augusta Plein Air Art Festival reaches out deep into the community, with multiple paint-outs with their own prizes, resulting in a variety of subject matter and many opportunities for sales and awards. Saunders won a prize on the very first day of the event, the paint-out at the Augusta Shores subdivision. The purchase prize netted him $500.

The day started off less than promising. “It was an incredibly gray morning, and there was a storm coming through,” recalls Saunders. “But it never rained — in fact, the sun came out at the end. The landscape of Augusta, Missouri, is breathtaking, with countless opportunities for painting. I grew up in St Louis, so it’s like coming home. I was initially drawn to the roots of the tree, and when I walked around it and saw the house in the background, it created a wonderful sense of depth and added a sign of life.”

“Missouri Foundations,” by Patrick Saunders, 2016, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in. Collection Augusta Shores. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts
“Missouri Foundations,” by Patrick Saunders, 2016, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in. Collection Augusta Shores. Photo by Saunders Fine Arts

Saunders paints every day, so he was loosened up and ready going into the Augusta event. He also knew this wasn’t a make-or-break painting session. “I was extremely relaxed,” says the artist. “There is no pressure at all when you know there’s 10 days to go.”

Overcast conditions mean an artist doesn’t have to chase the light — but the gray also squeezes values into a smaller range. Saunders knew what he needed. “When there is no strong light source, I look for strong darks,” he says. “In this case, I found them beneath the roots of the tree. I saw this from across the lake, and I thought they would give it some volume. I went down to the lake and set up so my back was to the lake and my feet were right by the water. When I looked up, I noticed the house. It was perfect — the house balanced the tree trunk. It not only gave the composition balance, but it pulled you back and kept you in the picture frame. It also added an immediate sense of depth. I knew the house had to be incredibly simple to keep the roots as the focal point.”

In the last 15 minutes of his two-hour painting session, the sun came out. “The bit of light added a zing to the piece,” says Saunders.

The piece will hang in the community center of the subdivision sponsoring the paint-out.

Saunders travels the country, painting where the climate suits him and his wife. You can read about this approach, which they dub “Plein Airstreaming,” here.

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