Plein air painters throughout the world gather in large and small pockets to enjoy the act of art-making together. I asked Jeff Cherry to tell us about a recent plein air event he participated in, and to share his advice for others who are planning and attending events such as this. Enjoy!
Cherie Dawn Haas: How did this group of artists in Plein Air Unleashed come together?
Jeff Cherry: Daphne Benton, one of the artists who rents studio space at Allure Art Center, was working on forming a plein air painting group in the area with another local artist, Cate Kauffman, since nothing existed. At the time in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula area of Virginia, plein air events and gallery exhibits were rare. In an attempt to kick-start the plein air painting group as well as gain recognition and exposure for plein air painting, we decided to start an annual plein air painting event (Plein Air Unleashed) to bring together not only the local painters but also those from other existing groups around the state.
We started with our resident studio artist, and she spread the word with the several other local painters in the area she had been painting with in her group. I then reached out to other plein air painting groups across the state, posting notices in their Facebook groups with call-to-artists posts. This year I also asked our returning artists to recruit others they knew and painted with. Several of the new artists regularly travel to paint on the plein air show circuits across the country and have met through those venues.
Some artists from Plein Air Unleashed have been painting together for many years, while others painted together for the first time at this event.
CDH: Did anything funny or unusual happen during the event?
JC: That we can tell? (LOL) Well, six of the artists who came in from out of town all rented a house and stayed together for the event: That’s five women and one man! It was like summer camp.
One of the artists had a flat tire one day on location and then a dead battery the next day.
One day four of the artists were out driving and pulled over on the side of a narrow road because the marsh view over the river just struck them. They all set up on the side of the road right there and started painting. Residents would stop and wave and talk to them, and many came into the exhibit and said, “We saw them painting that one” or “We saw them running all around this weekend!”
For example, a couple of painters who went to one of our listed spots at the nature preserve on the coast spoke with a couple that was there visiting and hiking. They told the couple about the exhibit and that couple came in to see the work. While talking to them, we found out they were staying just three doors down from the house the artists were renting.
CDH: What are some words of advice for other groups who put on similar events? Advice for participating artists?
JC: As far as groups putting on similar events…
Start by defining your goal. What do you want the group and event to be and become? What is the purpose — it is just casual, informal painting pals? Is it a competition event, is it local or regional, does it include all skills levels or a certain standard with a jury approval, or a combination of them?
Work to get the community and businesses involved to help broaden exposure, awareness, and attendance if you’re doing an exhibit or competition.
Advice for participating artists…
Really let yourself be open to working with the other artists, learning from and sharing with each other, collaborating, making connections and networking, finding out about how others approach their work, maybe new techniques, shows they have done that you may not know about, etc. Don’t be so secluded and have tunnel vision while just working with your head down.
Our event is casual; it’s not a competition, it has minimal rules, and we’re focused on getting painters that are interested in plein air painting to get outside on location, painting together, collaborating, and raising awareness in our region. One day the artists conduct demos and workshops during the event for patrons. We put out an open call to all local area artists to come join the exhibiting group in painting on location one day of the event.
CDH: What do you (or does the group) love about painting outside?
JD: It is a real challenge, much harder than most people realize, especially if you are striving to work completely en plein air and creating works without the use of references. From the changes in light and shadows, environmental issues of wind, rain, bugs, and other hazards — it provides a challenge while also feeling like it is the natural form of creating, and there is a special feeling of accomplishment when you begin to master plein air.
Additional Thoughts From “Plein Air Unleashed” Artists
“It is surprising sometimes how small and strong the art community is here in Virginia. We all have known each other in one way or another, and those we may not have known well before soon become good friends! At the end of each day we enjoyed sharing the day’s events, painting locations, and a glass of wine.
“We artists oftentimes spend much time in front of our easels alone, whether out on location or in the studio. It is such fun, and inspirational, to be with other artists for an intensive painting experience like a plein air event. Events like this one, in which the main goal is to create a body of work for display in the gallery, rather than a competition for awards, is a different mindset. We artists sought to capture a variety of subjects that would show the community the beauty of the area in which they live.
“One experience that I had while painting an older home that was in need of renovations was that the owner stopped by and gave me a short history about the house. It was very interesting to hear that it dated to the mid 1880s and about how the original owners were prominent members of the community. When the residents become involved, it is amazing how generous and sharing they can be with the town that they call home.” ~Maria Reardon
“The most fun was coming back to the house after a long day and seeing all the welcomed smiles and laughter around the house. Artists inspire artists, and that’s important for one’s own growth and self-reflection. Having such a wonderful community to paint in just elevated the experience.” ~Thomas Bradshaw
“All in all it’s a great place to paint, with many possibilities and some great chances for camaraderie between artists, the art center, and the community. I found a lot of support and inspiration, in spite of having both a flat tire and a dead battery in one short weekend.” ~Jennifer Young
“We are all Virginia painters and have painted together at different events over the years. It’s a pretty small community. Last year at our first event, I finally got to meet Nancy, Kathleen, Daphne, and Cate.” ~Kim Hall
“This was an amazing event. I loved the relaxed non-competitive vibe; the coming together to create an entire exhibit was the reward. It would have been sweet to get a group photo and mingle more, but we all had that mission to create, and the results floored me. Looking forward to next year and appreciate everything Jeff is working on to make this event even better, asking for our input and supporting this unique artistic niche is so nice. Loved this whole concept!” ~Daphne Benton
This year artists completed 52 finished works during Plein Air Unleashed. The art is on display at the Allure Art Center in White Stone, Virginia, through June 8, 2018. The organizers tell us that plans are already underway for next year with expanded artists, events, and more. For more information, please visit www.allureartcenter.com.