Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is home to an excellent park system. With both BREC and the LSU Ag Center, there are many gardens open to visitors and plenty of opportunities to volunteer to maintain them. One venue, the Independence Botanic Garden, recently underwent a renovation. The Botanic Garden Foundation organized a plein air painting event to raise funds to maintain it.
The event was planned for Memorial Day weekend, but the call for participants went out in March when the temperatures were pleasant enough. I was not really thinking about the weather when I signed on for the paintout, and as the dates of the event neared, I began wondering how my painting friends and I would tolerate the heat. Even by south Louisiana standards, it was brutally hot the last two weeks of May.
On the first morning of the event, there were thirty artists painting in the gardens. One could see their umbrellas peeking over the bushes. It was such a wonderful sight. Visitors walked their dogs, brought lunches to eat, or took graduation photos among the flowers.
At the end of the event, the wet paintings were displayed in a room of the library overlooking the garden. There were many guests and quite a few sales, which benefited the Botanic Garden Foundation. Votes were cast for Fan Favorite I & II, and I was thrilled to be selected as one of the favorites.
Despite the heat and the threat of rain, the weekend turned out to be productive. I made new friends, completed four paintings, and was happy to know that I have some fans who like my work.
The first weekend in May, I spent time painting the sights of Gautier, Mississippi. This small town on the Gulf Coast is home to friendly people and lots of boats. The plein air event was my first experience painting boats.
The Seventh Plein Air Convention and Expo held in Santa Fe, NM, was an intense experience. I met many of the artists I follow and had the opportunity to paint in an environment totally different from mine at home in Louisiana.
For years I wanted to participate in a plein air event, you know, when artists get together and paint a certain place over a couple of days, compete against each other to win prize money for the best painting on the wet wall, and maybe sell a few. Like a golf tournament for painters. In Plein Air Magazine articles are written about the big events around the country, with photos of stunning landscapes and stories about the artists who are like rock stars in the world of outdoor painting. Being part of one of these happenings was on my retirement to-do list.
I heard about “Paint It Orange” from my niece who just happened to be working for the Hillsborough Arts Council in North Carolina. That’s a pretty good distance from Prairieville, Louisiana. My husband said I should go, my sister told me I could stay with her, and since I have been in plein air “training” for the past few months, I decided to give it a try.
The first day I had all my stuff ready to go so I would not miss a minute of painting time. I have never driven in the state of North Carolina, but I drove to the arts council in my brother-in-law’s Prius (another first), had my panels stamped, and then I was out on my own. Since I did not have the luxury of casing Orange County prior to the event, I went to the first place where I could park, which was the Hillsborough Riverwalk. Unlike my home state, which is green almost year-round, the trees were just beginning to turn yellow, orange and red. For the rest of the trip, I searched for brilliantly colored trees to paint. On the second day I had the privilege of painting at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and for the first time in my plein air career, I had to wear gloves to paint. The last day I painted on a farm where there were barns, sheds, beautiful trees, and many dogs walking their owners.
The wet wall event was well attended, and a lot of paintings sold. I finally got to meet many of the painters I followed on Facebook. Even though I did not win a ribbon or sell at the reception, I felt a sense of accomplishment–being part of a three day plein air event that was on my retirement to-do list. I plan to do it again.
What is a 5000 square foot warehouse with nine families/vendors selling previously used merchandise for two days called? A Gargantuan Garage/Warehouse Sale, of course. And in my case, I am pretty certain it will be my last one.
The garage sale concept sounds so simple. Go through your house and get all the STUFF that hasn’t been used in the last three years. Price it, put it on tables in the driveway or carport, make all kinds of money because your STUFF is good STUFF that someone will want. Take the earnings and buy new STUFF and bring what didn’t sell to a thrift shop.
In my case it’s not so simple. My house is full of STUFF that I have not and will not use, but it can’t be sold or given away because it is family STUFF. (We have boxes of unpacked STUFF in our attic from when we built the house twenty years ago.) Even so, I was still able to take a couple of boxes to the warehouse. It took over a week for everyone participating to set up, and the building looked like a huge resale store when we were finished. Since most of us who were selling are also artists, there were paintings too.
The problem with having different vendors is there are opportunities to shop and spend. My plan was to make enough to purchase a GelPro mat to stand on when painting at the studio. However, after making $31, spending $6 on a cute dress, $4 on a groovy 1960’s overnight suitcase, and a painting I have always admired from my friend, Betty, I didn’t make my goal.
But I did get rid of some things and got some good STUFF!
For the past fifteen years or so, on the last day of summer vacation I compiled a list of everything I did. There is something about making a list. It’s easy to understand, and somewhat satisfying when it’s long. This year, the last day of summer vacation was on a Wednesday, so I could not do it.
Several years ago I joined a group of women who wanted to paint together once a week. It was decided the day would be Wednesday. We started in June of that year and worked at each other’s homes. I changed a few appointments so I could make the Wednesday painting meeting. Sadly, I had to stop attending when school started and was a little jealous seeing the work my friends were producing while I taught. Occasionally I joined them during the holidays.
The next summer we added another friend and took a painting trip together, which was a great experience. I was excited about getting back to the routine of Wednesday painting for another summer.
The best thing about the Wednesday painting group is the schedule. Paint on Wednesday morning. It’s what you do, no excuses. There were plenty of times when I would much rather not pack all my gear, get in the intense Louisiana heat, and stay home, but knowing I had someplace to be and people to meet was a huge motivator.
This summer a few of the original members of the group, as well as some new friends, continued to paint regularly on Wednesdays. I missed one day when I was on vacation (but I did a painting by myself) and took photos on another.
Someone said, “I see your paintings on Facebook. You have gotten so much better!” That’s what happens with consistent practice. On Wednesday mornings. And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.
Before I decided to become a painter, I sewed clothes. A lot of them. I was about nine years old when my mother taught me to use a sewing machine. I started with simple things like pillows. Since Mother sewed for herself and my three sisters, she was more than happy that I wanted to make my own clothes, and so I did for the next thirty years.
Sewing and painting are similar endeavors. Both require a some creativity (choose fabric that fits the dress design, choose an appropriate composition for the subject), ability to handle tools (needles, scissors, machine, brushes, support and medium), and lots of problem solving, practice and patience. I learned to match plaids and stripes, make professional buttonholes, and used Vogue patterns, which at the time were some of the trendiest but most challenging dressmakers’ patterns. I was a pretty good seamstress. The last time I sewed an article of clothing may have been twenty years ago. Even after measuring carefully and altering the pattern, the pants I made did not fit, and I quit sewing for myself. It was cheaper to buy pants than the fabric and time it took to make them.
At one time I lived about a half mile from Hancock’s Fabrics and probably went there once a week. I loved looking at the possibilities in the store. All that fabric, all those notions, all those neat gadgets! It was a candy store! The clerks knew their stuff and were extremely helpful. Later, I occasionally shopped there when I needed notions or something for home decorating. I noticed the transition from dressmaking fabrics to more crafting materials. Still, it was the place I could go get something to make a window treatment or pillow.
A few weeks ago there was a story in the local newspaper about the closing of all Hancock’s stores. Apparently the news took a lot of people by surprise. My mother and I went to there and found a sad scene. There was very little left in the store for the large number of customers still shopping. The clerks were still there, helpful as always, knowing that soon they would be looking for a new job. I was worried about finding lining fabric for my window treatments.
After watching a video by artist Robert Burridge, I decided it would be a great exercise for my students. His paintings are very loose and have lots of vibrant colors, layers and texture. Most of my students could stand to do some loosening up in their own paintings. So, as any good art teacher should do, I experimented with his process myself.
I set up an easel with a medium-sized canvas and palette in the hallway of my office. Now there are many educational professionals in my office, and most of them have jobs doing things that I do not understand, but everything requires lots of paperwork. So as they went in and out of their offices, everyone stopped to take a look at my painting and make comments.
“Wow! That is so good!” (It really wasn’t.) “Love your colors!” “I wish I could paint/draw! I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler!” And the number one comment: “That looks like so much FUN!”
Well, it was fun, but creating art is also work. Although the process I borrowed from Bob Burridge was about using color to create a pleasing composition, it required thought, knowledge of design, and practice. A viewer sees only the finished piece and does not realize the hours of preparation and study it took to make that one painting. The audience listens to a guitarist who makes it look so easy, not thinking about the number of hours spent practicing. Athletes “play” only after years of training.
And that’s why it’s called artwork. It takes a lot of work to make that one painting.