Florida plein air paintings - OutdoorPainter.com
Ralph Papa, “By the Tracks,” oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. “This painting is from Palm Beach County, particularly in Delray Beach,” saya Papa. “It’s a unique small city by the sea, lively and friendly with great views of the town, intracoastal waterway, and wonderful ocean beach. At the downtown heart of Delray is Old School Square, where I’ve been teaching drawing and painting for over 15 years, just a few blocks from this early morning west view painted on Atlantic Avenue by the railroad tracks. I liked the composition and colors of the buildings, the street railroad crossing, and I enjoy the excitement there that grows through the day as the sights and sounds of traffic and restaurant crowds blend with the hourly freight and passenger trains crossing Atlantic Avenue. This scene was painted in 2014 on April 17 in a 'quick draw' plein air competition where it was awarded First Place.”

Artist Ralph Papa has been honored in having ten of his plein air paintings of Palm Beach County selected for display at State Senator Lori Berman’s office in Tallahassee, Florida. I invited Ralph to tell us more about his recent accomplishment, his advice for other artists, and more.

Cherie Dawn Haas: How was your work found and/or chosen to be shown in the Senator’s office?
Ralph Papa: My work was known by the Palm Beach Cultural Council and was recommended to Senator Lori Berger for her offices at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee. The 10 paintings at the Capitol depict scenes in the areas that Senator Berger represents. It was a surprise and quite an honor to have my work chosen for display. How great it would be to keep this momentum going by having plein air artists’ works selected for display in the cities and states of the places painted. Plein air painting is one of the best forms of public art, in that most of it is created outdoors in public places that will surely be historic over time.

Since moving from New York to Florida in 2002, I’ve been active in art community painting and teaching and lecturing on art, especially on conducting workshops and paint-outs promoting painting en plein air to artists and collectors. In 2010, along with Donna Walsh, we co-founded Plein Air Palm Beach, which today has grown to over 800 followers and has conducted over 420 meetups to paint in and around Palm Beach County. We have a motto for our plein air movement: “Capturing today’s culture for tomorrow’s history.”

The 10 paintings (three shown here) at the Capitol were painted between 2003 and 2018. These scenes are already historic in some ways, as they’ve all changed since the time they were painted.

CDH: How does painting en plein air in Florida compare to other places you’ve lived and painted?
RP: Over the past 35 years, since beginning plein painting in the mid 1980s, I have painted over 400 hundred plein air paintings, mostly in New York’s Hudson Valley and Hamptons and in South Florida. I’m not a big fan of painting out in the cold of the northeast. The tropical climate here in southeast Florida is always inviting to paint. Always, even in the summer, there’s usually a nice breeze by the shore and beautiful beaches and saw grasslands to paint.

I love the tropical climate here with the ocean beaches and intercoastal waterways on the east and vast wetlands of the everglades on the west — a variety of subjects to paint in nature and architecture. My favorites are ocean and everglades views and sunrise and sunsets.

Florida plein air paintings - OutdoorPainter.com
Ralph Papa, “Sunrise at Boynton,” oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in.
The Boynton Inlet, with its curved pier on the north side and straight pier on its south side, is a favorite pace to paint. Always lots of action here with fishermen and spectators on the pier while fast-moving fishing and pleasure boats access the ocean through a very rough man-made channel. This particular scene was painted back in 2007 on April 8 as part of the Palm Beach Plein Air “Wet Paint Competition.” Capturing scenes like this is a challenge in getting set up in the dark before sunrise on a surf-drenched pier. In the days before small convenient LED lights, I had lighting on my canvas and palette from two rigged light bulbs and a car battery; one bulb lighting my canvas and the other on my palette. The peak colors at sunrise disappear in minutes and must be remembered and applied for the duration of the painting. I recall working quickly with a minimum color palette and ignoring the changed colors as the morning progressed. On that day, brilliant reds, yellows, and orange drenched everything.

CDH: What advice do you have for others who want to be professional plein air artists?
RP: First off, I believe that everyone can learn to draw and paint. All that’s needed is the desire to start and then continue to improve with practice. It’s a developed skill, like first learning to ride a bike. Once practiced and learned, it will become easier and automatic.
• Learn to see accurately, and develop the ability to make your work as good or better than what you see.
• Drawing is most important, and I’d say 90 percent of being an artist. I believe it’s true that you never really see something until you draw it. Practicing drawing imbeds the images in your brain which, with practice, can be recalled easily without visual reference.
• There’s no hurry to rush into painting, as one can add a bit of color wash to a drawing and have a painting. Draw and paint from life as much as possible. Although it’s more difficult than copying from an existing 2D image, working from life better exercises and develops your artistic ability.
• When painting, I highly recommend working with a limited palette with mainly the primary colors. Simplification works, as it teaches one best how to mix and match colors. In my teaching I’d estimate to my students that working with just a warm and a cool of each primary color, I can match 85 percent of the colors I see.
• Finally, once able to accurately draw and paint what you see, then look within yourself to ensure that your specific DNA of who you are, what you like, and how you think and move somehow shows in the works you create.

Florida plein air paintings - OutdoorPainter.com
Ralph Papa, “Lake Ave at Lake Worth,” oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in.
Painted on Sept. 14, 2013, with a group of artists of Plein Air Palm Beach. This is a morning view of the northeast side of the beautiful home of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach. Here again, I was drawn to the composition and color of the scene with glows of violet and pink in the morning light reflecting on the stark white Art Deco building. I also liked this location as it was in the shade and next to Starbucks for easy refills of my coffee. At the time of this painting, the Cultural Council was hosting an exhibition of over 120 plein air works by artists of Plein Air Palm Beach. History has already changed this scene in that the Starbucks at the left has moved to another location since I painted this.

About the Artist:
Ralph Papa (ralphpapa.com) was born and raised in Manhattan’s East Harlem and studied art and architecture at Queens College and CCNY and also at the Art Students League. Besides being a lifelong artist with a passion for both plein air and studio painting, Papa is an activist and catalyst for artists and art lovers, providing demos and lectures on visual creativity and teaching classes and workshops on drawing and painting. He is an organizer and co-founder of Plein Air Palm Beach and a Past President of the Artists’ Guild of the Boca Museum of Art. Papa’s artworks are in public and private collections in the U.S., Canada, and Europe and can be seen at his studio in Delray Beach and his Gallery at Boca Raton in Royal Palm Place.

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  1. Superb article on the life and artistic work by Ralph Papa. Ralph is regional Plein air treasure. His dedication, responsiveness, innovation and passion has been inspirational!!!

  2. Ralph Papa is an energetic plein air painter who exhibits terrific creativity and expression in his art work. Artists around Palm Beach County, Florida dub him as “Mr. Plein Air” for all that he has done to promote and develop the plein air movement in south Florida.


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