Advice for attending and entering your work at plein air events >>>
By Stephanie Marzella
Applying to and participating in your first juried plein air event can be an overwhelming experience, but the rewards both professionally and personally are undeniable.
Five years ago, encouraged by a fellow artist, I submitted three of my strongest plein air pieces into my first competition. I was well into my career as a professional artist and not a novice to plein air painting. I had painted outside throughout my life, but not in a competition setting — having to paint within a limited scope of time, culminating in an opening gala, exhibition, and sale.
Which event did I apply to? Plein Air Easton, a nationally known competition celebrating fifteen years in 2019. Imagine how excited I was to learn I was chosen. As the competition approached, my excitement gave way to anxiety. What to bring? Ordering frames. What sizes to paint? What surfaces to paint on? Not knowing any of the other competing artists. So much talent, fear of the unknown, etc.
I loaded my car to the max. I felt like I brought my entire studio with me. I had no fancy equipment, just a standard full-sized French easel and umbrella. When I arrived, the Easton staff was very informative and welcoming, and I found I was staying on a stunning property with a wonderful host family. Did I worry for nothing?
On the first day of competition I was toning boards when it was kindly suggested to me that I might want to consider painting larger. I had only brought small boards. So instead of painting, I went to Home Depot and got a 4 x 8-foot sheet of Masonite cut into boards and spent the whole day preparing them and ordering larger frames. I felt like I was wasting valuable time.
The first few pieces I painted were sepia tonals. I love doing tonals and wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I had quite a few people inquire as to why I was only painting with brown and was I going to paint with color? Which brings me to my first piece of advice: paint for yourself.
Sometimes it’s difficult to stay true to yourself in these events. Every artist is different. I suggest focusing on your own work and trying to not to be distracted by what other artists are doing, or how many paintings they are completing. Some artists can complete several paintings a day. Some paint the sunrise, another midday, and have the energy to do a nocturne as well! I myself take about six hours to complete a painting on site. I’m usually good for one painting a day. I’m most comfortable painting pure landscape and painting alone. Add to that being new to the area. I spent a day driving around looking for painting spots.
It can be difficult to witness others artists completing so much work, if that’s not who you are. Have faith in yourself. Be open to challenging yourself. There is a thin line between sticking to your guns and refusing to grow. If you do it all with a bit of nerves, so be it. Every artist is different — that’s what makes our paintings unique.
By the end of the week I had painted 10 paintings. I chose two pieces to be considered for awards. One was a 12 x 24-inch tonal titled “Cove View.” When I went to put it in the frame, it didn’t fit. Unbeknownst to me, when I got the boards cut, they were not square! I had one X-acto blade with me. I scored the edge of that wet painting for 45 minutes, barely making a dent. I was drenched in sweat. Easton is notoriously hot and humid in July. Luckily I brought a needle nose pliers with me, and I was able to break off the crooked edge along the score line. With that unnerving task complete, I turned in all my work. Then, as all the event artists do, I breathed a sigh of relief. I actually made it through the week!
The show opened the following night. Paintings started selling immediately. Later in the evening the awards ceremony began. Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, was the 2014 awards juror.
Much to my surprise, I received the “Juror’s Choice Award” for “Cove View.” So, after all my mishaps and anxieties, I was rewarded with an award. I was so enthralled when Peter spoke about my painting. He understood everything I was trying to express.
Most of the prize-winning pieces sold opening night. Mine sold at the very end of the night, to a wonderful couple, who I had been chatting with about the piece. Talking with collectors is yet another plus to participating in plein air juried and invitational events. By the end of the weekend I had sold seven out of my ten pieces. My only regret was that I did not get a clearer picture of the award-winning painting. Make sure you document well all of your work. You never know when PleinAir magazine might come calling and you’ll need those images.
To this day, I still have anxiety before every event, big or small. When fellow artists ask me if I’m excited about an upcoming event, I usually respond, “No, I’m nervous.” I wish that wasn’t my personality type, but it is. My point being, I still enter and go regardless of my angst. The results have been all positive. I have never regretted doing any event.
As soon as I find my first painting spot, the nerves fall away and I’m in the zone. I’ve found even the pressure of time to produce has led to creative breakthroughs.
I am proud of the work I’ve done at these events. I face my insecurities at every event. Most importantly, I leave every competition thinking, “I’m doing more of these.”
Personally, the most valuable aspect of these events is the people I have met. Influential people in the industry and a host of talented artists, creating a roadmap of friends across America. Some of the first-timers have gone on to be plein air all-stars and travel the country from event to event, gracing the cover of PleinAir magazine.
If you told me in 2014 that I would have an article in the February/March 2019 issue of PleinAir magazine, I would not have believed you, but I am. These events open a world of career opportunities.
My last piece of advice is: “Enter that first event. You won’t regret it.”