Oil painter Michelle Jung spends half the year in Santa Cruz, California, and the other half in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The contrast between the two locales has sharpened her skills of observation and has given her important insight that she can share with attendees of the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), where she is on the faculty.
“At first it was a huge adjustment to go from East Coast light to West Coast light,” says Jung. “It gets darker very early on the East Coast, and the light is flatter, with less shadows. So at first, I had to adjust everything and stick to values. That made me think about color more. The longer I observed the contrast of going from coast to coast, the more I could see it. I believe my work is very distinctive because of that. The value scale is much tighter on the East Coast. The color is more muted, with less contrast. The colors are more vibrant, much more saturated, in California.”
Jung will be able to offer something fairly unique to PACE attendees, but she stresses that no matter where a painter goes, the fundamental things apply. “Sure, I will use my bicoastal experience to help them,” says Jung. “But plein air painting is not really about color and composition; it’s about what is happening at that moment. The task is to figure out what you are experiencing and what you are feeling at that moment. It’s not just painting what you see.
“When you are in a new area painting, you need to figure out what in that environment is different. Lighting? Color? Actual rocks? Texture? Pick one or two things and get that down on the painting. It’s not necessarily about a finished painting. That is what I’ll point out to people. You can’t always expect to complete a finished painting in two hours, but you can get down on canvas what it is to be in San Diego. That is what I’ll stress.”
This is not Jung’s first PACE, so she understands what folks are thinking and wanting to do while there. “After a whole day of watching demos, they will want to paint. So I will help them,” says the artist. “From the experience of being a person painting and waiting for faculty to come to me or going around looking for faculty, I’m going to handle my duties as a field artist by walking around. I think it is very helpful to answer questions. They are so excited to get painting, and then you see them stop, sort of stuck, and it would be so helpful to walk up and introduce myself. Then they will open up and ask for help.”
And when it’s over, she’ll go back to being bicoastal. Neither side of the States has a monopoly on her heart. “I was born and raised in Connecticut, so I will always be a New Englander,” says Jung. “I will always be nostalgic about the East Coast for that reason. But on the West Cost, the sunset on the water is so different from the sun rising. That drama is what I’m drawn to in my work. It’s a matter of nostalgia and mood versus drama and color. And I love them both.”
Guess what? The biggest gathering of plein air artists in the world is sold out — but you can get on the waiting list. Jung is just one of the teachers who will be teaching at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, which will be held next week, April 24-28 in San Diego, California. Have you seen the list of faculty members that will be instructing participants? It also includes Jeremy Lipking, Quang Ho, James Gurney, Charlie Hunter, and dozens more. Go here to learn more about PACE.