Plein air painter Randall Cogburn
Plein air painter Randall Cogburn

Is it possible to participate in two distant plein air events in the same week? This ambitious artist pushes the limits to find out. Bonus: Includes a list of tips for your next plein air event!

BY RANDALL COGBURN

The problem: Out of two extremely popular plein air events scheduled for the same week of May 2021, which one should I compete in? I’m a plein air painter based in Austin, Texas, and this is my story of an ambitious decision to compete within one week at two plein air events that were 260 miles apart.

Could it be done?

Each event was big money, big risk, and with top painters from around the country. The stakes were high, the adrenaline was pumping, and my mind was in overdrive. How many paintings, my supply list, gas, which days were I to paint and where, the list went on and on. Scheduling took days to prepare.

In the past I’ve done quite well at these two Texas events, Paint The Town Marble Falls and Southwest Plein Air Galveston Island. So, after debating with my fiancé we decided I’d do both. Luckily, I was approved by both directors Erin and Tina; without the help of Cindy, my gallery representation at Island Framed on Galveston Island, this insane challenge would not have been possible.

Here was my schedule: Sunday, a blue-sky day in Marble Falls. Canvas check-in and off to my first spot to paint, a view of the city. It helps when you’re short on time to paint at nearby spots. Scouting around before the event saves time. I knew exactly where to go. After roughing my painting in, I then could take a break and start on a small nocturne of the same view towards the evening, of the same view.

Monday, during a 3.5-hour drive to Galveston I listened to the Eric Rhoads Plein Air Podcasts, which gave me inspiration for the day. Then 9am to pick up canvases from Cindy. I started a 14 x 18-inch harbor boat painting, then on to starting and finishing a street scene. Next, off to paint the surf, and finally a late evening painting of a tall ship in port, the Neo Santa Maria, before heading back home to Austin.

plein air painting setup

plein air painting setup

plein air painting setup

Tuesday, back to Marble Falls. By now I am feeling the sun from the day before. I drive to Klauss Springs to paint and cool off under shade and on to Spicewood for lunch and a quick 6 x 8-inch painting of a carnival runabout. Time to head back to Marble Falls by 5pm to work more on my city view and finish my nocturne. All in a day’s work.

plein air painting setup

Wednesday was my last day on Galveston Island. Back to the same spot to finish the boat painting I started on Monday morning. A nice lunch break, before painting the Hotel Galvez on the coastline and chasing a shade of a palm tree like clockwork; it was hot! Next, I cross the street to Murdoch’s fishing pier parking on the seawall and painting beside the car. A break from the sun, and then off to the gallery to drop off paintings so Cindy can frame them Thursday, then hang them Friday on turn in day. On those days I needed to be in Marble Falls.

Painting outdoors - plein air setup

Painting outdoors - plein air setup

Thursday, last painting day in Marble Falls before Friday’s judging. By now I was beat. Some framing needed to be done and finishing off the 16 x 20 in the evening, my last session at 5pm, and the traffic was horribly backed up.

Painting outdoors - plein air setup

Friday is show day! I finished framing before the cut-off, which took some time to do. Lunch at the event center, and a speech by impressionist Mark Fehlman from California, could this day get any better? It’s party time, and the award announcements. Seeing everyone’s work was amazing.

The awards were announced and when it came time for Best of Show, my name was called. I was blown away. The judge, Mark Fehlman, awarded me Best of Show for my painting, “Marble Falls.” Also in Galveston, on my behalf Cindy received my award for the painting “Cap’n Willis,” awarded with an award of Distinction by judge Roger Dale Brown. Not a sweep, but I was thrilled!

Plein air painters

Saturday was a quick draw on a windy day overlooking the Colorado River, and then more sales until the 5pm closing. Meeting and chatting with all the artists was a blast. Although I was exhausted from the week of painting, I was saddened that it had ended. Until next time!

Plein air painter Randall Cogburn

General Tips for Competing at Plein Air Events

  • For starters, you paint a lot, especially for two events, and you might drive a lot. Save time and paint near your car if possible.
  • Have your frames ready.
  • Watch weather reports to plan your multi-day paintings.
  • Scouting out before the event is a bonus.
  • Make sure you have panels to paint on.
  • Use panel carriers: they allow for safe transport.
  • Limit big paintings to two.
  • Drink lots of water and use sunscreen as you will be outdoors a lot, even on overcast days.
  • Make sure you have all your supplies – no special trips to the art store, and in my situation, it would have taken two hours of valuable painting time.
  • Make sure to rest between sessions, it helps revive your spirit and confidence to paint your next best painting.
  • I paint in oils and use mediums that help with a faster dry time. Avoid mediums that prolong dry time. You’re also framing these and so the quicker they can dry the better.
  • Paint on oil primed linen, it aids in fewer brush strokes.
  • I use a sturdy French Easel and separate palette; both can be weighed down on windy days.
  • Wash your brushes at the end of the day.

Good luck on your next plein air event. If you ever find yourself near the Austin or Galveston areas look me up; I teach plein painting one-on-one and groups (www.RandallCogburn.com).


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