What a week! Hundreds of artists gathered recently during Streamline’s 2nd annual Plein Air Live, where they had front row seats to presentations and demonstrations from today’s masters, such as Clyde Aspevig, Dawn Whitelaw, C.W. Mundy, Thomas Jefferson Kitts, Lori Putnam (who got a very special surprise!) and so many more.
If you missed it, keep reading to catch a glimpse of what we learned from each amazing faculty member; and if you were there with us, you’ll love remembering some of these favorite moments!
Beginner’s Day of Plein Air Live
The Beginner’s Day of Plein Air Live brought us hours of intros to painting outdoors with various media, as well as many new friends through the live chat and break out rooms.
To kick things off, Eric Rhoads and Kelly Kane gave us the 101 on what to know, including how to access exclusive vendor coupons and how to bid on the faculty paintings that are on auction only for attendees.
Our first session featured Eric’s overview on plein air gear for those who are brand new to painting outdoors, as well as for those who are more seasoned – there’s always something new to learn. In addition to going over the basic personal items you need, he covered easels and a suitcase with some surprising but helpful must-haves.
If you’ve never painted en plein air or even if you’re new to art in general, John Pototschnik‘s presentation, “Keeping It Simple,” is one you don’t want to miss ((replays are still available when you buy the Beginner’s Day ticket)). He begins by reminding us to check our thoughts because it’s easy to get overwhelmed with so much to learn. “Realize that as a developing artist,” he said, “you need to be patient.”
In addition to sharing his candid advice on thinking like an artist and key things to know about painting outdoors, John shared a limited palette painting demonstration, complete with color charts and up-close color mixing.
What exactly is composition in a painting? Artist and illustrator Bill Cone defined it for us as “the purposeful arrangement of shapes inside of a rectangle.” Bill shared a number of images, including animation stills, film stills, and landscape paintings, to explain the power of a well-executed composition, and gave advice on how to create a strong painting yourself, including: “Embrace asymmetry – it’s fun!”
Cartoonist, illustrator, and author David Chelsea gave a drawing demonstration on how to set up a simple one-point perspective using a pencil and a couple of rulers. While the drawing subject itself was an indoor scene, we can practice his lesson in order to apply some of the same concepts while painting landscapes outdoors.
Debra Joy Groesser filled us in on the basics of painting with oils in her informational session. We learned the basics of oil painting, such as the best types of brushes and surfaces, the difference between student-grade and professional paints, and the biggest advantage of using oil: its slow drying time (not to mention the vibrant and rich color qualities and the opportunities to create texture!).
While Michael Chesley Johnson is mostly known for painting with oil pastels, he also has an affinity for gouache because it’s wonderful for plein air. Michael led us through an outdoor demo (it was a chilly 30-degree morning for him!), explaining his decisions through each part of the process, including why he started with a watercolor pencil and then a transparent gray, and why he likes to begin with a flat broad brush.
Next we learned the fundamentals of acrylic with a demo by Stephen Quiller, who has been painting full time for 50 years. Stephen began by sharing the colors of his palette (he prefers Cadmiums), noting that he includes an area of white paint on each side – one for cool colors, and one for warm colors – so the white doesn’t get cross-contaminated.
Larry Cannon shared his words of watercolor wisdom in a session that gave us a wonderful overview, including inspiring historical and contemporary masters; his favorite tools, brushes, and paint; and a helpful diagram showing how to plan your plein air painting so that it’s not “doomed” from the beginning.
In “Pastel Basics for Plein Air Artists,” Brenda Boylan explained everything from what type of pochade boxes are available for pastelists to substrates and tools, and everything in between. She also shared a brilliant insider tip on what you can use to create a “gutter” to catch your pastel dust!
Coming to us from the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, Nancy Tankersley set up her easel on a dock. Here, she focused in on a specific cedar brush, rather than trying to paint the entire scene around her. She explained that in plein air, anything can change, and it can change in an instant, from being bright and sunny to overcast and cloudy. Her advice for when that happens: Put the sunny day painting away and pull it out another time.
Throughout the day, we also heard valuable messages from our sponsors: Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Huse Skelly Gallery, Blick Art Materials featuring Troy Kilgor, and Savoir Faire with Pierre Guidetti. We ended the day with a lively group Paint Along, during which many of us painted a scene together while chatting on video.
Highlights From Day 1
We kicked off Day 1 of Plein Air Live with a special pre-event seminar with Jeff Olson of Royal Talens; Jeff taught us all about painting solvent-free. Throughout the day, we also heard from our friends at the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, Cheap Joe’s, Huse Skelly Gallery, Blick Art Materials – featuring John Pototschnik, Golden Art Materials, and Savoir Faire – featuring Kevin Macpherson.
“I’ve enjoyed Day One and loved all the demos! Already some light bulb moments and taking notes! A special treat was meeting two new artists that live near me in Virginia in my first Breakout room! We may paint together! New friends!” ~Ginny Good, Plein Air Live attendee
By using a limited palette, Kathleen Dunphy explained color mixing for plein air artists. She said she uses the same six colors whether she’s painting the misty coast of Maine, the sunny seashores of California, or up-close and personal animals in a landscape. Kathleen’s session also included tips for painting outdoors in the snow, how to use plein air studies for studio landscapes, and plenty of practical advice for everything in between.
Attendees had the incredible opportunity to subject their paintings to be considered for a critique, which was given by C.W. Mundy. Inspired by a Biblical verse, C.W. first expressed that he wanted to be encouraging because one’s art is so personal. “We have a great connection with it,” he said. “This is just C.W. Mundy, and there’s objectivity and subjectivity in doing these critiques.”
Christine Lashley took us step-by-step through a demo on how to paint a common plein air subject: a peaceful stream. “One of the things that attracted me to the scene was the color of the water,” she said. Christine went on to explain how to do water reflections and submerged rocks, and create a feeling of sunshine and shadow on the stream.
Jean Stern, Director Emeritus of the Irvine Museum, returned to Plein Air Live to share an educational lecture on the early history of plein air painters, including little-known facts about their early methods and insights into the styles of Romanticism and Luminism. He asks, is luminism still alive and well? The answer is a resounding yes, as we can see in the works of some of our very own Plein Air Live faculty.
In Bill Davidson‘s studio landscape demo, he emphasized the importance of values and, yes, he does work on the values and design first even when painting en plein air.
Australian artist John McCartin painted a sunny country road scene en plein air (complete with singing birds in the background) as he demonstrated how to establish a simple scene with a clear composition.
Joseph McGurl began his session by showing us how he has modified his gear to make the outdoor painting experience “more enjoyable and more successful.” He then took us outdoors, where he gave a thorough demonstration, taking us through how he uses the sight-size method for his initial drawing, to his thought processes while painting a landscape en plein air, and then back indoors, where he explained how the outdoor work informs his studio paintings.
“I really enjoy watching how artists use their brushes to dance across the surface. The range of marks and textures is fun to watch. And I love hearing their thinking process – especially when they change things on the fly! You can’t get that from books!!” ~Liesel Lund, Plein Air Live attendee
Highlights From Day 2
Day 2 of Plein Air Live included exclusive sessions with Dawn Whitelaw, Amit Kapoor, Dave Santillanes, Thomas Jefferson Kitts, Michele Usibelli, and Lillian Ainsley, Suzie Baker, and Catherine Hoke with Kelly Kane, Kevin Macpherson, and a very special moment with Joe Anna Arnett. In addition, Eric shared a very exciting announcement about (drumroll…) PASTEL Live, coming soon! Keep reading below for bonus scenes in case you missed it!
“Today has been so full of useful information, beautiful paintings, and good people. My head and heart are full.” ~Jean Frey, Plein Air Live attendee
Painting a humble scene outside of her studio in Nashville, Tennessee, Dawn Whitelaw took us through her thinking process: “It’s so important to not be checking back in the scene to see what you left out,” she said. “Just let the canvas talk to you – if you listen, it’ll talk to you. It’ll tell you what it needs.”
From New Delhi, India, watercolor artist Amit Kapoor demonstrated how to create light that captures drama within your painting. We learned which colors he uses when and why, and the importance of drawing, which he said is essential; he added that color alone will never support a painting, and that we should always focus on the drawing first.
Using Photoshop to begin and a time lapse to wrap up, Dave Santillanes explained his overall game plan for painting a mountain scene from blank canvas to the finished work. We learned how to build a solid structure to hold the elements of the painting together, why it’s a good idea to tone just the foreground when starting a painting, and more.
There are three precise terms that allow you to “see the nuances of color, which will help you understand how to mix paint,” said Thomas Jefferson Kitts in his Color for the Plein Air Painter session. Thomas explained the concepts of hue, value, and chroma; explained the “Immutable Law of Color Mixing,” and much more, including favorite insights from beloved historical masters.
Michele Usibelli delighted us with her energetic brush strokes and vibrant colors in her demo. “Every time I put color on my palette, I’m always comparing it to what’s already been laid down,” she said, adding that once she puts down a stroke she leaves it alone to keep it from turning muddy. Michele continuously worked from what she called her “master puddle,” which is the main mixing puddle of paint from which all her colors are derived.
In a highly anticipated roundtable, Kelly Kane hosted a discussion with three prominent members of the plein air community: Lillian Ainsley, Suzie Baker, and Catherine Hoke. They covered everything from pre-pandemic plein air life to the recent hardships on artists and the organizations that support them, and the “secret sauce” of groups that are succeeding in growth. All in all, the future looks bright!
“I look back at a lifetime of achievement, a lifetime of happiness, and a lifetime of joy,” said Joe Anna Arnett during her Lifetime Achievement Award presentation from Eric. We saw a touching documentary about Joe Anna’s life, and she shared inspiring words to encourage the rest of us. Congratulations, Joe Anna ~ very well deserved!
From the sea shore in Loreto, Mexico, Kevin Macpherson talked about one of the most overlooked and important aspects of plein air painting: composition.
Kevin explained his method for developing a painting quickly with what he calls a magic grid system, and how thinking of your landscape painting as a stained glass window can help you map out your composition. Kevin also addressed using a limited palette and taking the fear out of color mixing.
Highlights From Day 3
Day 3 of Plein Air Live did not disappoint, with even more front row seat demos, a special studio tour with Clyde Aspevig, the annual Plein Air Salon Awards Ceremony, and many moments of connection and inspiration. To top it off, we have a brand new announcement: Plein Air Live 2022!
First, a Tennessee downpour didn’t stop Lori Putnam from teaching an effective class on how to paint alla prima (working wet-into-wet to finish a painting in one sitting). Lori began her workshop with a helpful tip: Practice mixing your paints on glass to get the same effect of working on wet layers of paint, as the “feeling” is very similar. She used a reference photo to demonstrate her techniques, including color mixing which brushes she uses, how she uses them, and why. If you’ve already watched this demo, you’ll understand why she leaves us “hungry” for more.
London-based portrait and landscape painter Daisy Sims Hilditch gave a plein air demo with a stunning, snowy mountain backdrop, complete with a blustery wind in the background. Daisy first introduced her palette and brushes (“I like to have a lot of brushes when I work because I don’t like to interrupt my process by cleaning brushes…instead I’d like to just be able to pick up a new one.”) As she completed the mountainscape, she expressed one of the biggest challenges of capturing the quickly moving clouds: “…but that’s what plein air painting is all about.”
Peter Adams, the President of the California Art Club, showed us how to transpose a daytime photo reference into a vibrant sunset painting. Why the need? His photo was of Anacapa Island (off coast of California), from which all boats leave before evening.
American landscape painter Clyde Aspevig took us on an educational and intimate tour of his beautiful studio space, sharing his paintings and his inspiration behind them. During the tour of his works, he also explained how to read a painting, whether it’s abstract or representational.
Part of his presentation included insights into his 6×10-foot painting of an area that is very dear to his heart: “I want the viewer to get a sense of this open landscape that still has a feeling of immense vastness that really was a part of how this country was developed,” he said. “It was such immensity, such an immense amount of possibilities of what we were going to do with this landscape. Now we have a piece of it that literally hasn’t been torn apart and destroyed, and I hope that part of it comes through in the pristineness.”
Painting from a sunny landscape in Petaluma, California, Camille Przewodek demonstrated aerial perspective while looking down on one of her favorite scenes to paint. Her advice for beginners: Don’t get hung up on the details; when starting out, focus on using big shapes in your composition.
With his setup on a rural roadside in Maine, Anthony Watkins painted a barn scene. Anthony demonstrated how he blocks in the elements of a composition before going into the details, and used a neutral gray mixture to begin. When it was time to add more details, we learned what type of brush he uses – it’s larger than you would think.
From the southern coast of Maine, Don Demers walked us through his process for creating a field study, including some tips like this: When your painting surface is shaded, use a white canvas to reflect the light back onto your study as you work. After giving an overview of his plein air study, Don took us into his studio to show how he then creates a studio interpretation of the subject. Another bonus tip: While his field study was only 5 x 8 inches, he used a larger canvas in the studio that had the same proportions.
Last, but far from least, we held the 10th Annual Plein Air Salon Awards Ceremony, where
Lori Putnam won the Grand Prize – $15,000 and the cover of Plein Air Magazine – for her oil painting, “Safe Harbor.” Watch the full ceremony at facebook.com/pleinairmagazine.