Plein air painting

by Mick Grochowski

In my youth, Poland, the land of my ancestors, was a mystery to me. It intrigued me that “the elders,” my grandparents and great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, spoke the “mysterious” Polish language to each other, but never really shared it with us, the younger generation. We listened, for years, to loud, raucous stories during holidays and parties. We heard solemn whispers during times of crisis. It always seemed that the old country must have been a very magical though traumatic land. Never did I give much thought as to why they would have left all they had, and those they knew, to travel to a new world.

Plein air painting

Art has always been an important part of my life. From grade school through high school it was the most enjoyable part of the day. In college, I found it important enough that I would earn a minor degree in fine art. So, recently, upon the sale of a print and graphic business that my wife and I owned, we agreed to take a trip to Poland, the land of our ancestors. Having done quite a bit of ancestry research on both of our families, (coincidentally, her ancestors came from a small town in Poland near that of my family) we decided that during our trip we’d visit the towns they had come from, not just the normal tourist sites most people visit.

Plein air painting

As travel plans were coming together, family research was leading to places I had not imagined. It seems that in tracing surnames, I was finding information dating as far back as the Renaissance. There were several bishops, one of whom was secretary to the king. One was a noted poet, who had lost his “parish” because of writings that angered church leaders. We also located the tombstone of a great Polish knight that had been inscribed with the words of that poet in 1587. There was even a saint. While I cannot, technically, claim all of these historical figures as direct ancestors, it is always a possibility.

Plein air painting

Somehow, and it may have been in the back of my mind all along, my thoughts came to where this ancestral trip should also become a plein air painting journey. Connecting the ancestral part of the trip to the medieval part of Poland’s history was easy, at least in my mind. So that was it! We’d travel for a month through Poland’s countryside, the land of our ancestors, to learn of and record scenes of our “origin.”

Plein air painting

Painting Supplies for the Journey

Those of you involved plein air painting know of the logistic concerns in traveling with supplies and finished works. Based on previous experience (a year before we’d traveled the entire Route 66, plein air painting) and knowing that we were traveling by car, staying in Airbnb’s, agritourism sites, and an occasional old hotel, I was determined to keep my painting stuff to a minimum.

Plein air painting

Typically, I switch between oil and acrylic work. So, for this trip I opted for Golden acrylic paints and a palette of titanium white, Payne’s gray, ultramarine and cobalt blue, yellow ochre, cad yellow light, Indian yellow, and alizarin crimson. As supports I opted for Centurion linen canvas, 10 sheet pad, in both 16×20 and 9×12. I wanted to be able to roll the paintings in a tube for the trip back to the States.

Plein air sketches

Secondly, as I knew we’d be limited for time at most locations, I decided to attempt an alternate plein air technique which would be faster and not require drying time. I’d experimented in the medieval method of silverpoint and metalpoint drawing, so it seemed fitting that I’d attempt to draw medieval subject matter using a medieval method. After a bit more experimenting, I discovered that the Centurion linen worked quite well for metalpoint without additional preparation. So I was all set. I would do 16×20, acrylic on linen, plein air paintings and 9×12 metalpoint drawings. They could then be rolled up for the return trip and mounted on panels to be exhibited.

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About the Artist: Michael (Mick) Grochowski, (www.MickGrochowskiFine is based in Norfolk, Virginia. He is a member of Chesapeake Bay Art Association, Hampton Art League, Tidewater Art Alliance, and Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association.

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  1. Hello Diane;
    Sorry I did not respond sooner, but just now saw your request.
    Having done considerable family research prior to the trip, we had a pretty good idea as to the region our ancestors were from. My family came from the small village, Krostkowo in central Poland. My wifes family came from a small village, Sliwice, about 50 miles north of Krostkowo. What we did discover, was that Krostkowo is a very friendly town. We visited the cemetery to see if we could find grave markers of our ancestors and did find several. Additionally, and purely by coincidence, we arrived on the eve of a village festival, celebrating the parish/town 525th anniversary. We stayed in an Agritourism cabin on property adjacent to the church, cute little cabins with and awesome view. We then stopped at the Parish Church, St Nicholas, to introduce ourselves to the parish priest. He was very welcoming and presented us with a copy of the parish history book. It was in Polish, but he pointed out where an entry indicated that our grgr Grandfather, and some cousins, had donated to the church’s reconstruction back in 1866. Following our meeting, the Pastor escorted us to the Festival grounds and introduced us to town dignitaries and provided some of the local food for our enjoyment.
    I’ll send info regarding the metalpoint art once I have a chance to put together a list of materials and suppliers.


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