Tim Kelly won top awards in three major 2017 plein air events, so he’s been automatically invited back to the Wayne (PA) Plein Air Festival, Plein Air Easton (MD), and the Cape Ann Plein Air Festival (MA). “Fortunately, that means I don’t have to sweat out the jurying process,” he says with a chuckle. “I can do only three events per year because I have a day job, but even if I had all the free time I wanted, I probably wouldn’t do many more. I enjoy the events immensely, but I’d burn out if I was to ‘do the circuit.’

“Limiting myself to three events and going back to familiar locations helps make these plein air festivals entirely positive experiences for me. The events I’ve participated in have been well run by exceptional people. I know that there are many artists who chafe at the notion of creating art in a competitive context, but I regard the events as more of a retreat. Because I have a day job, having a week away to just paint and pal around with friends is a blessing. I’ve noticed that the competitive aspect of these events diminishes in importance after artists have participated in a few. The stress of competition is replaced by the joy of friendship and the relaxation of painting outdoors.”

Artist Tim Kelly

Kelly confesses, “Even though I’ve been fortunate to win a number of top awards, I still find the subjective nature of the awards judging to sometimes be annoying. But what are you gonna do? Just roll with it.

“I don’t know how long these events will remain trending, and it’s not likely they will last forever, right?,” Kelly says when asked to predict the future of plein air festivals. “I just deal with the fact that they’re here now and I enjoy them. The better events will keep going and the lesser ones will fade out.”

Painting by Tim Kelly

Kelly regularly attends figure drawing sessions during which models pose for groups of artists. “I have no problems switching between figures and landscapes,” he says. “Whether painting a building, open field, or a posed model, I’m basically looking at angles, proportions, level lines, plumb lines, curves, etc. Figurative work can be more challenging because the character and identity of the model requires more attention. If I’m painting a tree line and it’s slightly inaccurate, nobody will know once I take the painting inside. However, if I get the lips wrong on a portrait, there is no hiding the error. Everybody will notice the mistake. So in that respect, painting portraits or figures requires a little more hand-eye precision.

“Even though I draw and paint figures on a regular basis, I seldom put figures into my plein air painting. I usually don’t notice things that are moving in a landscape, so unless I know the figure will be stationary for at least 20 minutes, I just ignore it. The same is true with vehicles. My plein air style does not convey movement well.”


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