Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Deb Zeller paints for a crowd of onlookers during the recent “Paint Cuba” trip with Streamline Art Events and Eric Rhoads.

Each time we leave our front door, a story awaits us, and the farther we roam the more likely we are to return with a tale we won’t soon forget. Such is the case for some of our painting peers, who recently returned from a plein air trip to Havana, Cuba during the Publisher’s Invitational with Eric Rhoads. Now that they’ve have had time to settle back in, I’ve asked them to tell us about their experiences.

Joyce Hester shares her advice for painting en plein air while in a faraway place; Deb Zeller tells us about painting portraits for the locals; Lyn Boyer describes her “sensory overload;” and Jim Turner shares some of the sights he experienced. Scroll down to keep reading (and learn about future events for artists here).

Painting Cuba en Plein Air

Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Joyce Hester, painting on the streets of Cuba
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Plein air painting by Joyce Hester
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Joyce’s painting of Colon Cemetery in Havana

Joyce Hester:
Cuba was an explosion of experiences, sights, sounds, subjects and interested onlookers! So how do you paint en plein air in that setting?

Simplify. Find your motif — the reason you chose the scene — and stick with it. The overwhelming choices won’t go away. They’ll only get more complicated as the light changes, elements move (a car drives on, a door closes), and onlookers distract (nobody smelled my paint, unlike a fellow painter experienced, but a tourist backing up to photograph her large group of friends almost took down both of us along with a fresh palette full of paint!). Your motif will guide you through the chaos.

Establish big value shapes early on. This will make the painting read well from the get-go and take the pressure off you to “perform.” Plein air painting is really a form of street performance art, and all the onlookers want to see the show. Getting the big shapes early on lets the painting read correctly throughout the process. And then, when that car moves, you can still find another and borrow its details to finish your painting. I confess, at one point I painted a Fordillac.

Don’t overwork it. If you start with your big value shapes — reading correctly — you can stop any time (such as when your guide hollers that everyone is already on the bus waiting for you!). Make color notes and you will have great reference material for your time back in the studio.

Lastly, take advantage of opportunities to paint out in groups such as we did with the Paint Cuba! experience. You learn so much from your fellow artists. ~Joyce

Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Deb Zeller’s drawing of Fidel A. Gonzalez. “I drew his charcoal portrait the last day,” Zeller says. “We were scheduled to tour most of the day, so I told the people in the Havana Central park that I would not be back. When I showed up after an early breakfast, before the tour, the people that I had previously drawn/painted went to get Fidel. I am so grateful for the experience.”

Deb Zeller:

I fell in love with the people. They are so friendly. Some of them waited hours to have their portraits drawn or painted. When I would arrive the next day, people would be waiting, I would get hugs from the people I had already painted. I brought along half a suitcase of gifts to give them, and everything was gone by the second day. After that, I gave them small gifts of currency. The small tips were the equivalent of several days’ pay, so posing for 20 to 40 minutes was very popular.

Almost all of them sat perfectly still. I just had one young man, I learned afterwards, who was mentally unstable . . . he couldn’t sit still, but after pointing in the direction he needed to look, about 40 times, I did get a decent painting. I don’t speak any Spanish, but that didn’t seem to matter. We used a lot of hand gestures and a few people spoke a bit of English and helped me out. Once people understood my drawing/painting routine, locals became my “manager” for bringing in more “models” for me. ~Deb

See more of Zeller’s photos from the Cuba trip on her Facebook page, where she announced that there will be an exhibition at Zeller Studio of the original works and the artwork of the four other Minnesota Artists who took part in the experience.

Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Lyn Boyer, “Blue Car,” oil on panel, 9 x 12 in.

Lyn Boyer (www.lynboyer.com):

What did I learn on the trip? People are kind. Borders are man-made. We are incredibly lucky to speak a universal language as artists. We find brethren wherever we go. The trip was literally like falling through a rip in time, where past and present fell into a heap in no particular order. The sensory overload will, I think, take at least a year to process.

To even begin to now come home and paint Cuba will be like climbing Everest. A beautiful, complex, infinitely rich place we were lucky enough to partake in. As a painter who spends most of my time painting in the quiet deserts and mountains of the Southwest, it took every ounce of mental discipline to try to stay focused in the midst of the explosions of color, sounds, and people while painting. Learning to paint outside my comfort zone was a great benefit: being flexible and adapting to new surroundings; reacting honestly to a scene and not relying on time-worn tricks of the trade; to not take the easy road.

I can’t thank Plein Air Magazine and Eric Rhoads enough, as well as the amazing folks who made this trip possible. We were well cared for. If there is an emoticon for “mind blown” it goes here. It was a truly amazing trip. If I was put in an MRI for a brain scan right now it would surely break the machine. ~Lyn

Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Lyn Boyer, “Cuba, Seaside,” oil on panel, 8 x 6 in.
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Lyn Boyer, “Cuba, Afternoon,” oil on panel, 8 x 6 in.
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
Lyn Boyer, “Cuba, Cars,” oil on panel, 10 x 8 in.

Jim Turner:

Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
This is the famous La Floridita where Hemingway hung out and where the Daiquiri was invented. There is a life-size bronze statue of Papa inside sitting at the bar. I had to include one of the iconic classic American cars for a sense of place too!
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
This is the portico of the National Theatre on Parque Central, just across the park from our Hotel. The guards couldn’t let me paint in the portico, but checked on me frequently and loved that I put them in the painting. (figures on the left)
Painting Abroad: Four Artists Share Their Reflections and Advice
One of the most enjoyable and surprising things about painting in Cuba was the friendly and enthusiastic response of the Cuban people. I was routinely surrounded by groups of Cubans, including kids through adults, who were smiling and complimentary, laughing and talking and many times anxious to share their own art. The man in this photo was a singer at the restaurant I was painting near and after watching me paint, he showed me pictures of his own paintings on his phone. Knowing how scarce good art supplies are in Cuba, I gave him a spare block of watercolor paper and made a friend for life!


Upcoming international (and national) art events with Streamline Art Events include:
The 7th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo
Publisher’s Invitational: Paint Adirondacks
Fall Color Week: Canadian Rockies
Publisher’s Invitational: African Painting Safari
Fine Art Connoisseur Italian Art Trip
Figurative Art Convention & Expo

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