R. Gregory Summers recently hosted an online painting challenge, and the resulting submissions paint a fascinating picture of plein air today.

“Backyard Beauty,” by Adam Clague, oil on Arches oil paper, 5 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. Kansas City

For the month of November, artists were invited by Summers to paint the view in their backyard and send a photo of the results for posting in a Facebook gallery. It was dubbed “Looking out my Back Door,” and it attracted beginners to big shots, watercolorists to oil pastelists, Brazilians to Boulderites. Six of the seven continents were represented, and 167 paintings landed on Summers’s wall. “What I thought was wonderful is a number of the participants had never painted outdoors and tried it for the first time; others had wanted to paint something there at home, just never took the time,” says Summers. 

“Jharoka,” by Rabia Raza, 24 x 14 in. Rawalpindi, Pakistan

“I-35 at Dusk,” by Michael Albrechtsen, oil, 8 x 10 in. Olathe, Kansas

“5 O’Clock Shadows,” by Tony D’Amico, oil, 10 x 8 in. New York City

Some of the entries were dazzling, such as Shelby Keefe’s backyard view of Milwaukee. Some were surprising, like Will Spear’s quick study of a fox he keeps seeing in his backyard, “checking on the bird feeders.” Some artists opted for still life suggestions of their view, others went for a vista. See them all, here.

Summers says he enjoyed seeing what people’s backyard views were, be they in Israel or Iowa. But mostly, he liked seeing people have fun and seeing them find beauty in what is literally an everyday view.

“Orchard Sunset,” by Joseph Loganbill, oil on panel, 12 x 16 in. Newton, Kansas

“Sandy and Bill’s Backyard View,” by Barbara Jaenicke, 6 x 8 in. Princeton, Minnesota

“Winterfall,” by Joyce Hartmann, acrylic, 11 x 14 in. Choctaw, Arkansas

“Morning Colors From the Patio,” by Janice Lorine Matthews, pastel, 10 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. Plano, Texas

“Untitled,” by Wendie Thompson, oil, 9 x 12 in. Wisconsin 

“Last year I did the ‘Looking out my Front Door’ challenge, and in sending out messages to artists I received one back saying, ‘I don’t paint for fun,'” Summers recalls. “It was a famous artist, and I can see where he is coming from. I mean, this is just a silly little challenge with no prizes, no winners, no nothing but what you put into it. But this is where I differ, and I hope I never change: I have always found art fun. Well, in fact, I find life fun — but that’s another topic. I have found a way to be successful at something I love and at the same time have fun with it.

“And this challenge was fun. Yes, it was a lot of extra work, and my wife reminded me of things that I still needed to do. But hearing some of the comments on all the paintings, and the responses from the artists who actually painted them, and what they said to me — it’s worth it.”

“Out my Back Door,” by Vivian Bound, acrylic, 11 x 14 in. Shawnee, Kansas

“The Way to my Studio,” by Edwin C. Bertolet, oil, 9 x 9 in. Redwood City, California

“Echinacea Purpurea,” by Doreen St. John, oil, 11 x 14 in. Ohio

“Sun Dog,” by Dave Santillanes, oil, 10 x 20 in. Fort Collins, Colorado

“Just Behind,” by Marc Hanson, oil, 11 x 14 in. Longmont, Colorado

“Monday Morning Break in the Clouds,” by Shelby Keefe, oil, 18 x 36 in. Milwaukee

More than twice as many people participated in this second painting challenge. If this pace keeps up, the next one might be mammoth. Is Summers stepping away from all this unpaid administrative work? Unlikely.

“I’ve got ideas for the fall of 2015 bouncing around in my head,” says the Kansas artist. “But until then, there are a few miles of canvas I’ve got to cover.”


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