While many people retire at around age 65 and completely stop doing what they’ve spent much of their time doing for years, this does not seem to be true of artists. Instead, some may find that when they stop earning a living, they have more time for art. And even those who have been creating art for years may not be willing to give it up just because they are aging.
But we artists have to be realistic. As an aging painter I know that there are physical aspects of what I do that become more difficult with the passing years. If I want to keep on painting, and I do, I will have to adapt. And as it happens, I’ve found several ways to do that. The first, which I did several years ago, was to buy a new French easel that had wheels and a long handle like my suitcase. I ordered it from Blick, but their current catalog doesn’t have one. I’m often a plein air painter and carrying a heavy easel and other gear was getting harder. Then there are the acrylic paints that I use. Those small metal lids seem to easily have paint stick in them and are hard to open. If I’m painting inside, I run hot water over them and that helps, but I can’t do that if I’m painting outside. So now I use only Liquitex paints with their big plastic lids that will open no matter where I am.
I find that a camera is a vital tool. I photograph the scene I’m painting in plein air in case I need to finish the painting at home. And I always photograph every finished painting and put the photos on my computer in case I need them to enter art shows. The problem was that my hands are not as steady as they used to be. At home I use a tripod but when I’m outside and want to photograph something I might want to paint some day, I don’t want a blurred picture. When my current camera stopped working and I had to buy a new one, I chose a small Sony that was advertised as taking very sharp pictures. And it does. Husband says it is because of the higher number of pixels.
My latest gadget, which I used for the first time on our recent tour of gardens in England, is shown above, a cane with a fold up seat. I took it because I knew I couldn’t do a lot of walking without having to sit down and rest occasionally. But I discovered it was very useful for sketching, since it provided me a place to sit in the exact location I wanted. I had ordered it on the internet a few years ago for a previous trip and didn’t use it then. So with a little help from these aids, I plan to continue painting.
Here in Lawrence, Kansas, spring arrived early this year. All of a sudden the landscape was bursting with color, especially the trees. While it was still late March the Bradford pear trees turned white with blossoms. The redbuds and flowering crab apple trees soon followed. Now the neighborhoods are also filled with lilacs and the young cherry tree in my back yard is covered with blooms. What an inspiration for a painter.
But these very colorful sights are also very fleeting. A tree that is in full bloom one day may in a spring storm send petals to the ground. If you want to capture some of this beauty with paint you’d better not put it off. Coming out of exercise class one morning I noticed a row of blooming Bradford pear trees across the street. But I was in a hurry and didn’t stop to photograph them. Passing that way in the afternoon I did stop but somehow the scene was not the same. The light was coming from a different direction and that made a difference. Fortunately, I had enough sense to go back the next morning and photograph them and I have started a painting.
But actually painting on site is so much better. When I was driving out in the country to paint at an artist friend’s house, I noticed her blooming Brandford pear tree long before I reached the house and that’s what I decided to paint chosing an 18″ x 14″ canvas with wide enough stretchers not to need a frame. I was faced with a very windy day. But I was determined not to waste this opportunity. So I painted in my car, even though the car I have now is very small. And I will remember the beauty of springtime whenever I look at that painting.
So when you see one of these glorious sights of spring, seize the moment. Take a photo if you must or better yet don’t put off setting up your easel outside. This is one of the best times of year to paint.
Handcrafted, Acrylic, 12″ x 12″
I sometimes like to watch those artists on the public television station demonstrate how they paint. They seem so sure of themselves, as if they know from the beginning that this will be a really good painting. Some encourage their viewers to paint along with them, but they paint so fast that this doesn’t seem practical. How do they do it? I recently had reason to ask myself that question.
I am a member of the Topeka Art Guild and there is a back room at their gallery where art classes are sometimes held. The teacher of a weekly afternoon class of primarily senior citizens asked me to demonstrate plein air painting to her class. Since this was in February, going outside was not an option. But she wanted her students, who usually painted from photographs, to learn more about the art of painting what is in front of you. I said I would do it and then had to figure out how to go about it.
When I paint outdoors in a public space, such as a park, people sometimes look over my shoulder briefly to see what I am doing and maybe make comments. But they come and go quickly and I don’t really talk much to them. I just keep painting. This would be different. I needed to figure out how those artists on TV did it. I decided on a simple still life that I would paint on a small canvas. I chose three objects that I had in my house. They represented simple shapes, a sphere, a cone, and a cylinder, that students in art classes learn to shade.
First I practiced painting the still life at home. Some of the drawing did not look quite right. So then I practiced just drawing the still life several times with charcoal. Finally it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to draw the still life ahead of time on the canvas to be sure to get it right. Finally the big day arrived and I set up my easel and the still life in the room before the class arrived. I talked a little bit about plein air painting to the class and about the objects I had chosen to paint.
It turned out to be easier than I had imagined. Mostly the class members concentrated on their own work, occasionally walking up to where I was painting to see what I was doing and ask questions. I didn’t quite finish the painting during class time, but I got enough done that they could see how it would look. I finished it at home. I plan to enter it in the next Topeka Art Guild show, so they will be able to see the completed painting.
Kansas Hay Bales, acrylic, 12″ x 12″
I’ve lived in the same town since 1969. I have been painting on the country property of two artist friends for about 10 years. The result is that I have been seeing a lot of the same sights for a very long time. This leads to the obvious question, what can I paint that won’t look very similar to what I have already painted? There are several ways to look at this difficulty. An art teacher in college urged us to look at just about anything as a possible subject. She took us into a downtown alley and suggested we sketch trash cans.
It is true that we can always expand our notion of possible subject matter. I tend to favor colorful scenes, especially flowers or autumn scenes with yellows, reds, and oranges. And I’ve painted a lot of them. Lately I’ve noticed that I’m seeing more earth tones in my paintings. These kind of scenes seem to also lend themselves to studies of texture, which works well with a palette knife.
Another way to look at same old, same old scenes is from a different angle or a different shaped canvas. Recently I was once again on the same country property where I had painted so many times before. I almost despaired of finding something I wanted to paint. Large circular bales of hay are very common around here at this time of year and I have painted them before but usually as part of a larger scene, objects in the distance. So I decided to try something different. I happened to have a small square canvas with me, a size I seldom use. It was possible at the location where I was to get quite close to the bales so I decided to make them the center of interest. I enjoyed studying the colors and textures in them as I tried to put my impressions on canvas. The result is the painting above, which both I and my painting friends were quite pleased with.
Clematis, acrylic, 14″ x 9″
A friend of mine shares with me several art magazines that she has finished reading. Since these magazines are just too good to throw away I then pass them on to others. There was an interesting Publisher’s Letter in the November 2014 issue of Plein Air Magazine that I read recently. The author, B. Eric Rhoads, was advocating that we plein air painters need to do more to promote understanding of the term plein air and awareness of this way of painting. I had supposed that many people understood this term, although I didn’t come across it until I was middle aged and was in an art class that met outdoors and the teacher explained that the term was French and had originally been used to describe what the Impressionists did, paint outdoors what they saw in front of them.
I recently tried, unsuccessfully, to sell several paintings on eBay. My daughter, who was helping me through the process of putting the images online and describing them, did not want me to use the words plein air to describe my paintings because, she said, nobody would know what that means. So maybe Mr. Rhoads is right. As a painter who prefers plein air painting, maybe I need to explain what I’m talking about. To being with, above is my most recent plein air effort.
When I think about my own plein air experiences, here are a few that come to mind. My first plein air experience in a college art class. We were out in a field and I painted two of my classmates painting. (Plein air paintings can also include the figure.) Sketching in a park in France and all of a sudden being surrounded by a group of soldiers, curious to see what I was doing. Painting in a barnyard while a cat tried to crawl into my lap. Painting with one hand while holding onto my easel with the other as the wind increased. Drops of rain dribbling onto my painting as a sudden shower came up. Parked off the road in a remote rural area painting in my car when suddenly at my window the face of a highway patrolman appeared wanting to know what I was doing. Starting out painting in comfortable shade only to have it soon disappear and feel the hot sun beating down. Painting while my chair sat on a concrete surface only to have my glass water jar fall and shatter. Painting in the mountains while husband was in meetings concerned because he did not know exactly where I was.
It has all been an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.