Carl Bretzke was hoping to paint a nice harbor view at sunset during the Door County Plein Air Festival in late July. Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating, but the Minneapolis painter merely turned in another direction … and painted the Best of Show.
“As luck would have it, that night for the sunset paint-out was overcast with intermittent light rain showers,” Bretzke recalls. “I subsequently abandoned my western view of the harbor and looked at the view of that trailer, which I had previously been scouting to paint as a nocturne. It was only a few steps away from the harbor where most of the artists had set up. I thought it was a nice piece of Americana, and the lighting reminded me of warm cloudy summer evenings growing up in Minnesota.

Judge Billyo O’Donnell climbing a ladder to get a better look at entries at the 2016 Door County event

“I took my time with the drawing while I was waiting for a nice light effect. It never came, so I went with the gray day and started putting down color as I saw it. Every so often for some reason a painting like this one goes together like putting together pieces of an easy puzzle. I think it was because I was satisfied with my drawing and could pay attention to the subtle color and value shifts. At the end, a couple guys came by drinking beer, and I thought a beer bottle on the table would finish off the composition appropriately. Some kind ladies found an empty beer bottle for me, which I placed on the table. Then the two guys came back and brought me my own beer. I love plein air painting.”
The judge at Door County, Billyo O’Donnell, took his job very seriously, going so far as to use a stepladder so he could see the paintings hung high on the wall from the proper vantage point. He was happy to comment on Bretzke’s winning piece.
“As the juror for the 2016 Door County Plein Air Festival, I studied each painting several times, and this small gem of a painting kept speaking to me with each passing,” says O’Donnell. “This painting gave me the feeling as if I had momentarily came upon someone’s private world who was just there having a beer, or left one there from the night before. Someone who may enjoy the company of others, making the extra chair inviting.
“The value range is handled brilliantly for an overcast day, while maintaining a brightness in the painting. The color scheme is built on many different kinds of greens, which is difficult for many. The lighter areas have subtle temperature changes, and the brushwork describes and suggests the forms with a confidence. The composition brings you in on the lower left side at the chairs, with their white silhouettes against the grass. The chairs are grouped with the mass of the table and the lone beer bottle. Your eye then moves to the trailer, which is also grouped, with a couple of other bigger masses of buildings, and then you go back toward the truck in the distance, and then back to the chairs, completing a triangle with your eye stopping at the lone beer bottle. This is when you start to see the subtle thoughts of the painter.
“The beer bottle is placed between the vertical movement of the table’s far right leg and the downward movement of the handle of the chair coming down on the left side of the beer bottle, connecting the two in a key area. The grouped masses of the table and chairs are connected to the trailer with the bicycle. Then there is the dark mass that comes off the back of the trailer, leading us to the truck. On the lawn, all around the chairs and trailer, are bits of color flashes of light things and objects, some rich in color, giving the painting a confetti-like feeling on the lawn. The effect works in softening the hardness of the darker mass of the green lawn.
“The line defining the angle of the road in the foreground also echoes the angle of the chairs, trailer, and building, giving an energy to the movement of the eye. The dark blue, angular line across the center of the trailer relates to the rooflines behind the trailer. The artist could have left out or played down the roof lines behind the trailer, but the artist kept their design. Choosing what to keep and what not to keep are all choices we make. This painting is nothing short of an absolute plein air gem. Kudos to Carl Bretzke.”


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