Susan Kendall (susankendallart.com) is both an outdoor painter and a car enthusiast. See how her passions crossed paths, resulting in 8 x 20-foot backdrops for a classic car show.
Cherie Dawn Haas: Please tell us about the car show and how they discovered your paintings.
Susan Kendall: I am a member several Citroën car clubs. The president of the Sacramento Citroën club, Dennis Deusing, has been following me, my art, and my car on Facebook. He has a background in theatre design and advertising and likes my work. He asked me if I would make four murals 18 x 40 (on masonite — I gessoed them and then painted with blue acrylic) that could be photographed and blown up (8 feet x 20 feet) onto plastic and could be used as the backdrops for the the French cars exhibited at the recent Los Angeles Classic Car Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds. He knows that I travel to France with my husband and that I paint and sketch on location in France and has seen the sketches that I’ve made and posted on Facebook.
I made several sketches (pencil and paper, 4.5 x 10 in.) to act as a reference for the murals. The murals are based on painted sketches and photos from my trips to France. There are a few small oils I painted over the years, watercolors and gouaches.
CDH: Tell us about the studies you made in France. What inspired you to go there to paint?
SK: Since becoming a plein air painter in 2008, I felt I always wanted to see the sites in France that the great plein air painters painted (Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, etc.). I have painted on location in Normandy, Bordeaux, Provence, Basque country, and Paris (in particular, Luxembourg Gardens). I have visited many of the same places that the Impressionists painted, for example, Honfleur, Giverny, and Etretat. I also visited Arles in Provence and the yellow house that Van Gogh stayed in.
In a town called Quinsac, near Bordeaux my husband and I rented a troglodyte house that a sculpture and painter owned and Rodin stayed in. I washed my brushes in a farm sink in the kitchen that Rodin most likely used.
My husband and I have made many trips to France since 2012, when he bought his first Citroën, a DS Pallas 23. We belong to a French Car Club in Paris called “Auto de Javel.” We have made many friends through the club and continue to visit them and participate in their functions. My husband speaks French fluently, and I am learning.
During one of our visits I fell in love with a Blue 1972 wagon DS 21 Citroën owned by a Parisian doctor. I told my husband, “I think if I ever was to have a Citroën, it would have to be this one — perfect for a plein air painter.” The French doctor was kind enough to let me drive his five-speed on-the-column station wagon in the French countryside in Normandy on one of our car club outings. He told my husband, “She passed the test” (meaning I could drive a five speed and classic car without difficulty!).
To my surprise, in 2013 my husband tracked down a 1972 blue wagon, the same model as the one I drove in France. He found it in Grass Valley, California, and bought it for me. It’s my “plein air car” — I use it for an outdoor studio.
CDH: What’s the most important thing you learned while painting in France?
SK: In the practical area of equipment and supplies: be flexible. I gave myself permission to buy supplies in France and leave them behind so I didn’t have to pack and carry heavy equipment home. I got pizza boxes from a restaurant to cart my wet canvas boards around in the rental car. I carried a lot of baby wipes, hand lotion, and paper towels so I could clean up quickly. Later I would wash brushes out with soap and water. I don’t recommend bringing solvents to rental homes or to carry in your rental car.
Painting in France, I learned to carefully look at the light and colors of each unique region. It really helped me understand the Impressionists and how their paintings look fresh today because of the light and colors they used. Many of the locations are recognizable. Often, I feel like I am existing in one of the Impressionist’s paintings while in France.
CDH: What do you wish you’d known about painting with oils en plein air when you first started?
SK: I wish I knew how flexible oils were when I first learned to paint. I started with watercolor and thought oils were complicated and I was fearful of the material. I find them forgiving and also they can be used in many different ways. My favorite way to use them is alla prima, straight out of the tube with very little mixing. I particularly like thick brush strokes, and it is part of my statement as an artist.