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.
Since I began working in plein air several years ago, most locations I have painted have been near enough that I only had to pack my gear in the GMC and drive to my destination. Even when I head for northeast Mississippi from Louisiana, it’s not a big deal, as long as I remember to bring something to protect my wet paintings from ruining the interior of the vehicle. So when one of our Paintin’ Posse (we finally have a name) suggested a painting trip to Lake Gaston on the North Carolina/Virginia border, I only hesitated a few minutes before committing to flying there on Memorial Day weekend.
Packing for travel is one thing, but packing for both painting and vacation is something else. I researched online, asked my art colleagues how they managed, and tried to minimize what I put in my two suitcases. I have several easels for outdoor painting. I tried each and finally decided on the Soltek. The tubes of oil were carefully placed in the paint boxes I saved (I’m a box hoarder) and the number of brushes limited. The Best Brella took some room, but I knew I would need it at some point. Since we were going to a lake house I took a very limited wardrobe that included the hat I always wear when painting outdoors. It all fit and came in under the weight limit. Just learning to pack to paint was huge.
The house was situated on an inlet of the lake. The weather was perfect every day except the day we left. We were able to paint several different areas and even took a trip to a winery. Our host family provided us with refrigerators full of food and beverages, prepared several meals for us, and
took us on boat tours around the lake.
I quickly acclimated myself to the artists’ retreat concept. I began five paintings, scrubbed one away, and pushed myself to paint more quickly in order to keep the light.
Now that I have learned to pack and paint, I think I am ready to head for new places, like Tuscany and Provence. After I finish the five paintings (and quite a few others) I have in my “to be completed” stack.