So I’ve finally gotten a moment to write about my experience with the Paint Out, the plein air competition held in Burnsville, NC every May. This is how the Paint Out works: all the artists arrive between 8 and 10 in the morning at the Burnsville Toe River Arts Council Gallery to have their paper, canvas, or other substrate validated with a stamp. Then they disperse and spend the whole day painting, coming back at or before 5 with their finished works. The pieces are hung on the wall and judged while everyone else grabs a bite to eat ( or in my case runs home and cleans up). Everyone then returns for a reception and awards ceremony at 6:30.
The real challenge for me is to finish a painting in one day. I am so detail-oriented, a bit of a perfectionist, and slllllllllllloooooooooooow. Think turtle here.
This was the third annual Paint Out, and my second go at it. I tried to do it the first year it was held, but my husband was out of town and so I had my kids with me–which proved to be a bit of a disaster. But this year I planned ahead. I knew what I was going to paint, and I’d spend a day doing a study, mostly to see if I actually could finish a painting in one day. Here’s what I painted as a study:
This scene is one I see every time I drive into Burnsville–high on a hill above the two-lane highway, this double-trunk pine stands in the center of a cemetery. Whenever I really paid attention to this tree, I would say to myself, “I need to paint that someday." There’s just something really magical about this tree standing sentinel in the middle of the graveyard.
So I had prepared my paper the day before by painting it with acrylic medium mixed with marble dust, which makes the paper feel like very, very fine sandpaper. This helps the pastel particles stick to the paper. I’d packed my pastels in an assortment of boxes, and laid my pastel pencils in their traveling tray. I gathered all my assorted tools and was ready for the big day.
I woke with a scratchy throat and a lack of determination, which thankfully wore off with the coffee my husband brought me. By nine 0’clock I was set up in the middle of a pasture next to the cemetery, gazing from tree to paper, tree to paper. I worked hard and fast. By noon I was sunburnt, and put in a call for my straw hat, some lunch, and some tunes (hooray for the husband!). By three I was beginning to get antsy. Would I finish in time? By four I realized I would have to leave out the headstones, which grieved me, since they seemed integral to the painting. By 4:45, I had finished:
At the reception I was amazed with the quality of work that was produced, and disappointed to not have received an award. But I knew the instant the judge started explaining why he picked the first place winner that I wouldn’t be on his list. He praised soft delicate edges and values that mingled gently. My painting doesn’t have a soft stroke in it. But I listened carefully to his compliments of the winning pieces, eager to learn more from his perspective.
What I came away with was a new understanding of why I paint. Certainly I have always arranged my compositions and chosen my colors intuitively. And I know that there is always room for me to grow in my technical skill. But in the end I paint because I have a story to tell. I am a narrative painter. It’s something I’d thought about a little bit before, but as I mulled over certain things the judge said I realized that for me, value and edges and composition all serve one end, to tell the story of whatever it is I am painting. I don’t know exactly how to explain this, except to say that in the case of the pine, I’ve always felt that it serves as a bridge between life and death, heaven and earth, grief and celebration. That is why I have been compelled to paint it. If I really want to paint the story of the cemetery pine, I need to do so in a completely different way. And I want to do that, and am indeed excited about it. I feel like I really know how to paint this story now.
Anyway, if you are smitten with either of these pieces let me know! I’m pleased with them both, but my studio is honestly getting too full, so I’m happy to take offers. I’m thinking somewhere around $100 for the study (12" x 16") and $350 for the larger Paint Out piece (16" x 30"?). You can see the larger piece at the Burnsville TRAC gallery until June 27th. Anyone who purchases these originals will get a free print of the Narrative Painting I will be doing later this summer (it’s gonna be wicked cool!).
If you’ve gotten to the end of this, then I want to thank you so much for your interest in my work! It really does mean a lot to me. My next studio update will have pictures of piece from start to completion–I should be posting it soon!