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Olena Babak, "Moment of Enchantment," 2016, oil, 20 x 16 in., Collection the artist, Plein air. Babak is featured in the article “In Service of the Heart.”

A couple of hours before the Opening Ceremony for this year’s Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), I came across a woman sitting in the hallway across from the registration booth, her back against the wall, a yellow highlighter poised above her program and a pained look on her face. Fortunately, I recognized that pose, as I found myself in much the same position last year. Overwhelmed by the number and variety of demos, presentations, and painting opportunities available to her, this first-timer couldn’t decide how best to use the experience.

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The cover of our June/July 2019 issue of Plein Air Magazine; art by Tom Hughes (Click here to buy the digital version now)

Since she’d never been before, and was there alone, we decided her first stop should be the Newcomers Orientation, which would acquaint her with the daily routine and help her meet others like herself. In the course of our conversation, she revealed that she was not only new to plein air, but new to painting. She came with a sketchbook and pencils, but didn’t know enough about any other media to even know what else she might need.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get to San Francisco in time for the pre-convention Plein Air Basics course, and was starting to doubt herself, questioning why she ever thought she could do this. As we weaved our way through the program, selecting sessions that would provide her with a wide overview of how different media work in the field, an intro to basic painting concepts, and speakers who I knew would ignite her imagination, she quickly regained her enthusiasm and confidence.

I realized that I might do well to follow the course we’d plotted for her myself. In between on- and off-stage duties, I popped into as many sessions as I could. Without exception, I walked away having learned something new, or understanding a concept or technique a little more clearly. And I saw that many of the PACE faculty were doing the same. At one particular presentation on painting the outdoors using cinematic lighting by Mike Hernandez, a production designer at Dreamworks Animation, I was surprised to be joined in the back of the room by a number of other instructors.

Hernandez was demonstrating with gouache, but had drawn a crowd of attendees and professional artists who painted in a variety of media. The lessons he was imparting transcended media and had something to offer painters of all skill levels. I daresay the same was true of every presentation at PACE. Keeping an open mind, recognizing that none of us knows it all, and being willing to step out of our comfort zones once in a while are the keys to making the most of any situation. PACE was no exception.

I ran into the woman I’d met on day one of the convention a few days later. She was having coffee in the hotel lobby with another first-timer, and making plans to meet up for that afternoon’s paint-out. She waved me over to show off some pastels and watercolors she’d purchased and was looking forward to taking for a test run as soon as she got home. She also showed me some of the lovely sketch work she’d done over the course of the weekend — all of it competing for space on the page with the copious notes she’d taken. In the hustle and bustle of the event, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t catch her name, but I suspect I’ll be seeing her at another convention sometime soon.

Once you start, you never really stop learning and growing as an artist.

Plein Air magazine, June / July 2019 Table of Contents:

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