One Spin…Trip of a Lifetime
by Mike Bonar
Our custom 4-wheel drive motor coach spun to a perfect stop. One last big step and I was onto the sheep and cattle pasture. I grabbed my backpack filled with paints, canvas panels, and all the gear I needed to create my personal best plein air painting. I was immediately struck by the fabulous scene in front of me. It took my eye down the bush-speckled slope to the turquoise-gray glacier-fed Dart River and up the other side to the steep, rocky New Zealand mountain tops covered with snow and bathed in sunshine. Wow!
My thoughts, however, were, how I possibly capture this amazing scene when the temperature was 36 degrees and the wind was practically at gale force? I wouldn’t be able to hold my brush and could easily have to chase my pochade box and canvas down the hill. I searched around and found a perched area near some bushes to get the best view and try to break the wind, anchored my tripod with my water bottle, tightened up all the knobs on my pochade box, made a quick pencil sketch of the scene, opened my paints, and went to work.
I was actually surprised when our Senior Travel Designer, Angela Morgan, said our two hours were up and to start wrapping up and get on the bus. I took a last look at that fantastic scene and then at my painting and told myself, not bad; it has some real potential. Sometime in the future, I will remember it and it will transport me back to this amazing spot. That was a good day.
I was standing on that hillside with 25 other artists/painters literally because of one amazing spin. Back in May of 2022, I attended the Plein Air Convention and Expo (PACE) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On the last day, over 600 of us were in the convention hall getting amped up and ready to go paint outside. Eric Rhoads drew my name from a barrel full of other names for a chance at the Grand Prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to paint in New Zealand.
Believe me, I was shocked to hear my name called. My hands and feet began to tingle. I was the final spin of the conference. I spun that wheel and couldn’t see it but heard the crowd; they were very loud, then the noise slowly subsided just before they exploded! I won, I won, I won! What a full-on adrenaline rush. I am going to New Zealand! I later calculated that my odds of winning were about one in 9,000. So lucky! For the rest of the day, people came up to me and said, are you that guy? The New Zealand guy?
My art background is in studio-prepared drawing, oil painting, and watercolor works. I studied at Purdue University, Mesa, Arizona, and for 6 months in Florence Italy at the Academia De Arte’. My works tend to be in realism and I have sold a few. As a studio painter, I am learning plein air, and this was my third outdoor painting trip. Per suggestions from my art professor, Cynthia Petersen, I practiced setting up and painting outside for a few months before the trip. I also watched Eric’s video on what to pack, which was right on, even at 36 degrees (vodka).
I learned a lot on the trip about “time-limited” painting. I usually spend 20 to 40 hours on a painting to get everything perfect. I’m going to try to put some of the things I learned painting on that hillside into practice to improve. Maybe I could slice some time off my paintings and increase my production, at the same time producing more painterly, looser, works. My takeaways are to choose and keep my focal point, sketch, greatly simplify, mix more paint, let values do the work and step back from the panel more often. I also now believe that “to paint something is to know something.”
A surprising bonus was learning from other artists. The great artists that were there were all very helpful and had such diverse skill sets. Mitch Neto was very friendly and informative and did great work. Patricia was very talented and quick. Lynda Pyka and her work are both a bundle of energetic beauty. She finishes with seemingly fully developed artwork, all plein air. Melissa Moffett worked small and completed beautiful pieces. Who knew black and yellow make a great olive green? Nancy showed what can happen with pastels; ugly stage to swan inside an hour. I knew I would see talented artists but their willingness to share ideas exceeded my hopes. I am still on Jennifer Bartlett’s group text as we relive and continue the experiences we had.
Another great insight came from Angie, our penultimate Senior Travel Designer and host. She could not believe the talent we assembled. She said we are all very critical of ourselves. She would say, “that’s coming along great,” and a typical response would be “meh, it looks terrible.” But, most times, it would turn out. We also respected each other’s work and it motivated us, in a fun way, to do better.
The Paint New Zealand Plein Air Trip (Publisher’s Invitational) offered an incredible buffet of scenes and a continuous artistic Easter egg hunt. To paint in an environment of world-class scenery is the pinnacle of plein air painting reference material. The once-in-a-lifetime trip was a compendium of adventure, hospitality (five-star hotels and restaurants), and top-notch transportation. I couldn’t have done it without my family’s full support and help to hold down things at home, allowing me to be immersed in this experience. My thoughts as I went through this experience were gratitude, making memories, and making the best of great opportunities. One spin and I am on the painting adventure of a lifetime. Can you imagine?
Eric Rhoads is the great worldwide promoter of plein air and I’m here to tell you, that man loves plein air painting. He has it bad! He is always looking to “knock one out.” He also had some really great paintings this trip (Steamship, purple mountains-palms, Dart River, etc.). Eric is also about the group experience. His motto is “no drama,” which worked great. Finally, he is very generous. As the trip winner, I began to feel guilty about my luck. I asked Eric early on, “what can I do to share my luck with everyone here?” Without hesitation, he said, “Just enjoy it, Mike.”
Thank you Eric and Streamline Publishing! What a host! I am so grateful. I made lifetime memories and made the best of the entire experience. Until we meet next time, keep on plein air painting.
Related: In this special episode of the Plein Air Podcast, Eric Rhoads welcomes three artists from the recent painting trip he led to beautiful, exotic New Zealand, “truly a magical place.” The guest artists are Mike Bonar (who won this trip on the prize wheel at the Plein Air Convention!), Lynda Pyka, and Mitch Neto. Watch below!
Visit EricRhoads.com to find out all the amazing opportunities for artists through Streamline Publishing, including:
– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
– New video workshops for artists
– Incredible art retreats
– Educational and fun art conventions, and much more.