James Kroner, the top winner in the October-November contest of the PleinAir Salon, took First Place with a rainy San Francisco scene. This wouldn’t surprise Kroner’s friends in the least.
“I love the rain,” says Kroner. “It’s not uncommon for me to do the opposite of what most people do and go outside. I take my umbrella and camera and go out to get references. It’s the most colorful time. When rain hits the city it creates a lot of color, with all the reflections of light. To me it’s visually exciting. If it were just overcast, it’s not the same. With ‘Slate Colored Storm,’ I did what I often do — I had painted in the area, and I used the reference of my experience for the studio piece. I don’t necessarily look at the paintings I’ve done outdoors. I just kind of remember — unless there’s some color or something that I want to remember. Then I use my plein air study. But if I use the plein air piece as my primary reference, I feel confined. If I just remember the experience of painting there, then I have a little more freedom. I don’t want to copy the last one I did, the plein air piece. The idea has evolved.”

“Hawaiian Storm Swell,” by James Kroner

“Wawaloli Beach,” by James Kroner

This particular scene could not have been painted en plein air, as it is on a busy street. Kroner did use some photo reference, but he changed the composition dramatically. The most important aspect of the piece was his familiarity with San Francisco on a rainy night. “The rain in San Francisco is coming from the ocean, from the north,” he says. “It has that feel to it. I grew up here, so I’m pretty familiar with the rain and the city itself. I know it, just from being able to stand on the hilltop and get the perspective looking down.”

“View From Cordiano,” by James Kroner

“Slate Colored Storm,” by James Kroner, oil, 38 x 38 in.
First Place in the October-November contest of the PleinAir Salon

“Slate Colored Storm” was part of a series Kroner painted for a show at Christopher Hill Gallery in Healdsburg, California. They were all cityscapes, and this one was not the only rainy cityscape. But “Slate Colored Storm” was unique. “This one I didn’t have to do a study for,” Kroner says. “Sometimes I will paint something again, and a third time, and each time I realize the idea further until it evolves. But this one just happened organically from the first time painting it.”

“Pescadero,” by James Kroner

“Anatomy of a Wave,” by James Kroner

Kroner says plein air painting played a crucial role in his development as a painter, but these days, he’s lucky to get outside to paint more than a few times a month. “Going outside and painting from life was probably the most important step in my learning process in order to paint a bigger piece like ‘Slate Colored Storm’,” he says. “Everything I do in the studio is referencing what I learned outdoors. Emotion, vitality, my impression of the outdoors — it’s all always present in my studio work. I have painted outdoors in the rain plenty of times, and I am always drawing from that experience, the feeling of being out there, the solitude of it, the impression of the atmosphere, the light, and the changing elements.

Untitled, by James Kroner

“Land of Ice and Snow,” by James Kroner, oil, 12 x 12 in.
Best Water in the October-November contest of the PleinAir Salon

“But for me now plein air painting is for when I am traveling, or just for the experience of painting from life. It’s to change my environment, to get out of the studio and stop looking at still references and look at something in real life. It helps force the pace a bit, so I can get into responding to painting more than thinking about painting. You have endless hours to work on a piece in the studio, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s not. Outside, it becomes more about an intuitive response, and that is the really important thing in painting, period.”


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