Painting in the Garden

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.

Painting the Town of Gautier, MS

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.

PACE 2018

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.

Painting on Location

I am not an outdoor person. My favorite outdoor activity was tanning until I discovered plein air painting. Now it is my passion.

Own the Original

Recently, the studio where I have space had an open house. The front gallery was filled with artwork by all of the members, and in the studio spaces each artist had even more to show. It was our effort to show work accumulated over the years (and hopefully sell some as well).

My wall in the studio gallery.

I repeatedly heard this comment, “I want to buy only original art.” I appreciate those who make an effort to purchase original work and especially those who also want to know something about the art and the person who created it. That information adds such value to the work.

One of the paintings I sold had a bit of a story. One morning my painting friends and I had to forego our plein air date and stay inside due to a thunderstorm. We had some flowers from the garden, an old pitcher that was my first purchase when I moved out on my own, and a Tuxedo cat. After setting up the still life in my kitchen, we each made a painting, and took photos of the cat for future reference. I explained the setting of the composition to my client and wrote it on the back of the panel with a Sharpie. It gave a special meaning to the work that will not be forgotten.

Thank you, Madeline B., for making my day!

As you think of gifts for others, or even yourself, consider original artwork. There is so much good work available, and much of it is very reasonably priced. By purchasing something from an artist, you not only receive a piece of beauty, but hours of practice, education, angst, and a few moments of joy. You also enable that person to continue pursuing a passion. 

Thank you for purchasing original art!

Paint It Orange

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.

The Appearance of the Teacher

For much of my art education and career, I thought I knew enough and all I really needed to do was practice. Which may explain why my years working on a degree in art and the decade afterwards was so lackluster. I failed to appreciate what was being imparted to me by highly respected teachers. After finally graduating with a BFA in Commercial Art (pre-Graphic Design), I did not take a workshop for at least ten years. But I didn’t practice my art either. Because, I thought, I was a good artist and already knew enough, right?

Watercolor was the medium I started using when I decided I just might have something more to learn. The supplies were left from college days, so it was inexpensive to start again. I began to read articles in books and art magazines. Back in those days most of the photos were black and white, but I could tell the work possessed qualities that mine did not. So I started looking into local art associations and workshops.

Walking into a meeting of people one doesn’t know is challenging, but fortunately the members of the local art guild were welcoming. Several of the members were nationally known artists who taught in the area.

Mary Jane Cox was a watercolor painter and teacher. When I first met her, I was a bit intimidated. She was a well known artist who taught in different parts of the country, wrote and self-published books, painted prolifically, and was accepted into many, many juried shows. She was such a good painter I found it hard to believe that she took workshops too! I signed up to take one of her workshops, thinking I would be lost in the class. I was surprised that she reached out to me and offered to pick me up to go to the workshop site. It was the beginning of a good relationship.

After working with her I realized how approachable she was. Mary Jane had much to offer and gave willingly. I learned more about composing a painting from her than in my years of design classes. I became one of her “girls” because I respected her artistic ability and generosity with her gifts. So why did Mary Jane Cox make such a difference? After all, I was the same person I was ten years earlier.

Because the student was ready and the teacher appeared.

It has been ten years since Mary Jane Cox passed away after a long battle with cancer. Every day I go into my study I look at the watercolor of the Madison County, Mississippi courthouse that she painted and see something different. I use many of her phrases and call them “Mary Jane-isms.” She opened my eyes to the knowledge that we are all students who should never stop learning.

I am eternally grateful the teacher, Mary Jane, appeared. I am glad I was ready! I hope one day someone will feel the same about me.

Gargantuan Garage/Warehouse Sale

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.

5000 square feet of previously used STUFF.

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!

I picked up a groovy 1960’s suitcase to carry art supplies. Topaz, the cat, was already mine.

Watercolor

My first experience with watercolor was like that of many other students, using the Prang eight pan box with a brush that dropped hairs on 20 lb paper taken out of the ditto machine or large 80 lb drawing paper if we were lucky. We didn’t get a whole lot of direction and maybe fifteen minutes to paint something that always turned out sort of pale and wrinkled. That was enough to turn me off.

One of my degree requirements was three hours of watercolor. I had a highly respected professor who showed a few basic techniques, but his preferred method of teaching was to let students figure it out ourselves. On location, away from the campus. Hope you have transportation! And sunscreen and insect repellant! That experience kept me from taking further watercolor instruction in college. Not to mention that I made a “D” in the class as well.

When I decided to become an art instructor, I realized I would have to teach some sort of painting and that watercolor would probably be the easiest and least expensive medium. I also knew I had to practice myself. So I took my tubes of paint from college days, my two or three brushes (one of which I still have…Big Bertha), the old palette, bought some paper, and started trying. And it was not fun because I was so impatient to be good. But I persevered. I was going to overcome that “D” in Watercolor 101!

I took workshops, read, and practiced occasionally. One workshop instructor pointed out a great piece by a member of the class, stating that she must have a huge stack of paintings at home because her watercolor was so good. Still, I didn’t get it. But after years of piddling I finally started turning out some decent watercolors and getting a few commissions. Now, I love telling the story of my “D” in watercolor. (I also made a “D” in fifth grade religion, but that is another blog.) Half of the work I do for others is in watercolor.

Many believe that watercolor is a challenging medium to master, partly because corrections can be difficult. Some think that works on paper are not as permanent and less valuable.

And then others absolutely love them.

Thank you to my clients who are in love with watercolor paintings.

And to my watercolor professor, I think I did just fine.

Career Change

When I mentioned I planned to retire at the end of the school year, a lot of people said, “Congratulations! What are you going to do?”

“Not wake up at 5:15 in the morning,” was my usual reply. I did not understand the question. After all, I was an art teacher for thirty-six years. I just may do some art of my own for a change.

Since my last day of teaching about a month ago, I really don’t have that retirement feeling. My friends tell me that will happen when school begins in August. However, I do have the challenge of changing careers and becoming, finally, a full time (sort of) artist.  Painting in my new studio space is like going to work, except I don’t have to be there at a particular time and stay a certain number of hours. I don’t even have to go every day.  I get to work with great artists and learn from them. I do not have to put my supplies away at the end of the day and can wear jeans every day of my life if I choose.

Friends took my comment that I may become a painter seriously and gave me this "uniform."

But somehow, I cannot let go of the structure of my educational career. Each afternoon I write my goals for the next day. I like to schedule days for plein air painting with my friends and times for keeping up with the business side of things. I still pack a lunch to take to the studio, just as I did when I taught school. All the years in the classroom prepared me for this new phase.

Will I miss teaching? Yes and no. I will always be a teacher. I will miss many of the students and other professionals with whom I worked. I enjoy helping people reach their potential. But no, I will not miss waking up at 5:15 in the morning.