– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –

Richard Abraham found that timing was everything in nailing the painting that won him First Place at the Santa Fe Plein Air Festival in early June. Timing, and New Mexico’s weather.

Lead Image: “Approaching Storm,” by Richard Abraham, 2016, oil, 11 x 14 in. First Place at the 2016 Santa Fe Plein Air Festival

Abraham recalls the situation in which he painted “Approaching Storm.” It was a matter of finding something closer to what he was accustomed to painting, and having meteorological circumstances line up just right.

“The organizers had a couple of optional places on the itinerary, and this was one of them — a private ranch along the Rio Grande,” says Abraham. “I had been out in the desert the previous few days painting rocks and arroyos, and here along the river it was really lush. That was a lot more familiar to me — I’m a Midwestern guy, used to a lot of greens.”

Abraham walked down the river a bit, away from the rest of the painters. He found a sandy embankment, with pale green in the foreground and dark trees backlit, with a variety of greens in the reeds. “In the shallows, they were almost a teal green,” he says. “Then there were the distant, gray greens, and that purple sky, foreboding and dark. The storm served as a nice complement to all that green.”

Storms are changeable. Storms can form and dissipate quickly. Storms can catch a plein air painter out in the rain. Abraham really pushed his luck, and the result was First Place.

“I was glad I could capture it,” he says. “I knew it was a good mix of color and light. But I’m not the fastest painter in the world. Some plein air painters can do a painting in an hour. I’m a good three-hour painter. I was the last to leave the ranch that day, and they were looking for me. The ranch hand came up to me and said, ‘Oh, there you are. You didn’t tumble down a hill into the river.’

“Every day I was in New Mexico, at some time in the day there were skies like that, a thunderstorm in some direction. I never knew if they were headed my way or passing by because I don’t know that climate. But this storm was hanging there for a surprisingly long time. It wasn’t there the whole time, but long enough, and it was pretty consistent. Even when there weren’t those bands of rain coming down, the low purple cloud mass on the horizon didn’t change too much.”

He finished just in time. “It got really dark just as I was packing my car,” says Abraham, “and as soon as I got in, it just started to pour. Something was working that day. My timing, the subject matter, the way I was painting — it was just one of those days and it all kind of worked.”

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