*Special Note: The Plein Air Convention is not a sponsor. Just a great event and I’m happy to share my experience with you.
By all measures I probably should have fallen asleep during Albert’s demo.
Let me tell you about the two days leading up to his demo and you’ll see why it’s incredible that I was still able to keep my eyes open – #PACE18 felt like a 5 day marathon!
Since I can’t possibly fit everything from the convention into a reasonably sized blog I’ll simplify it by breaking down my experience into 4 categories – Lodging, Schedule and Experience, Artist Demo Insights, and my Final Thoughts.
First off, the AirBnB I stayed at in Santa Fe was over 30 minutes from the Plein Air Convention location. For those who aren’t thrilled about paying more for the hotel room than the cost of the convention, an AirBnB is the way to go. My room felt like a luxury hotel suite and was only $35 a night.
The only downside was the 30 minute travel each way. I had a refrigerator, private shower and whirlpool bath, beautiful views and I was barely 5 minutes from downtown Santa Fe.
Schedule and Experience
Here’s a quick FB Live video I did between demo’s. Ignore the first 39 seconds of me trying to figure out my technology. And have fun checking out our other videos from the convention in our group Master Oil Painting Tips and Techniques.
Monday, began early with a workshop by Kevin MacPherson (Kevin is really good – one of the best I’ve seen).
After that it was 2 days and nights of non-stop exceptional instructors and painting before Albert’s demo on Wednesday, with me climbing into bed between 11 pm and midnight each night.
With eyes that felt glued shut I awoke at 4:30 am, showered, made a quick Living Fuel shake and raced off to get a good seat for the Art Marketing Bootcamp that started at 6:30 am.
By 2:20pm, after another action packed morning, I found myself in a reverently quiet room filled with fans of master artist Albert Handell – and I completely forgot how tired I was!
Amazingly, I don’t think my eyes drooped during a single demo at the convention – they were just too good.
Watching someone like Albert or Kevin reminds me of my days at art school. Arlo Coles would teach our oil painting class by demonstrating masterful impressionist strokes on canvases as large as 24×30 inches. He made it look effortless!
I can still see Arlo so clearly in my mind, raising his hand to block a part of his painting, judging whether that area helped or hindered. To me it was – and still is – magical.
Seeing how artists apply paint, and hearing them describe what they’re thinking is, I believe, the best way to learn. That’s why I designed the Master Oil Painting membership site with full length videos – I could not think of a better way to teach. That’s how I progressed so quickly from my first class with Arlo to selling consistently in galleries a year or two later.
My goal as an artist has never been to get good enough to sell in a gallery and then coast along.
I want to create paintings that are so powerful and beautiful they touch other’s hearts and uplift their thoughts the way so much art has done for me. I hope my art inspires others to look to our Father in Heaven in gratitude. With more than 30 years of painting full time I am more determined and excited than ever to reach my goal.
Surrounding myself for a week with master artists and watching them paint is one of the best opportunities I’ve found to increase my skills and understanding. I own DVD’s and online courses by many of them. I love the extra dimension that comes from interacting with these great artists in person.
Much of what we hear one artist teach is also taught by others – that’s how it should be – we paint using many of the same underlying principles. Occasionally though, an artist will explain a concept or technique in a way that we have never considered. That one change of perspective or new technique can help us make dramatic leaps in our art.
Last year’s Plein Air Convention in San Diego was my first and I took advantage of each day’s opportunity to set up and paint. Not more than 100 ft from me was Jeremy Lipking painting the harbor and Quang Ho was capturing waves against the rocky shore.
This year I realized that instead of painting each day – which I have been doing for more than 3 decades – it would be a better use of my time to see how other professionals approach their outdoor studies, especially with the caliber of artists they have teaching at the convention.
So instead of rushing off to grab my paints, I wandered around the painting sites to watch and learn.
I couldn’t completely hold back though, and ended up taking out my easel twice – once during the crazy windstorm we had on Thursday at El Rancho de las Golondrinas and on Friday at Ghost Ranch.
The weather was perfect while I snapped some photos of artists Joe Anna Arnett and Rick Wilson, two faculty members, painting in a courtyard. Within the hour however, the sky grew menacing and the winds began to test the mettle of the painters. That’s when I knew it was time to store my camera safely in the car and grab my good friend – my large Kelty painting pack.
While many huddled behind the historic adobe buildings, I decided to put my new Orange Screws (CLICK to see my full painting supplies list) to the test and set up my easel right in the path of the strongest winds. The painting didn’t even flinch – my easel held steady and stoic.
My painting does show the evidence of wind – dirt, sand and bugs are preserved in the paint for future generations to wonder about.
I even shared the experience live with our FB Group, and while filming my painting the fantastic pastel artist Susan Nicholas Gephart jumped in to say hi to our community.
Artist Demo Insights
Here are some fun insights I gleaned from the presenting artists. You’ve heard a few of these principles in my instructional videos, but repetition is one of the best tools for learning.
For some reason many of the photos I took seem to have vanished off my phone, so I don’t have pictures of a couple of the artists on stage. Sorry about that.
There are a lot of notes from him because his workshop was several hours long on Monday, and then he painted another demo on Thursday.
Color is truer, more colorful in the halftones (I often refer to this as the middle value areas). Texture is revealed here.
Reflected light lives in the shadow family. A strong light source will bounce off surfaces, in turn becoming new light sources. This new reflected light can be a different color than the dominant light source.
Cast shadows help us see the direction of our light source.
Black in sunlight will be lighter than white in shadow. White in shadow will be darker than black in sunlight.
He also showed a shadow of a hand on a white shirt – it’s black. Then a black shirt in sunlight which looked relatively white.
To simplify a design, connect the dark shapes together and the light shapes together.
Local color does not exist – what does exist is the color quality of an object at any given moment based on the influence of light and atmosphere.
Many amateurs are stingy with their pigment. Develop a good habit of squeezing out large puddles of paint on your palette.
The color of a shadow will often be the color of or influenced by the adjacent colors – like a green shadow on the eve of a roof because of a green lawn below.
We have approximately 10 values to work with and 10 million colors – we can make plenty of color changes, but only a few value changes. Values are more important to get right!
Rather than worry about the color temperature of the light source and complicated rules-of-thumb, simply ask: is the color lighter or darker than the previous color and is it warmer or cooler than the previous color.
Kevin uses a Dynamic Vertical Grid to help create variety in his paintings – lots of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines placed on the canvas with a straight edge to form triangles, rectangles and squares all over in varying sizes. He then changes up the color and value at least a little when he comes to a new shape while painting.
He also painted with one brush, a Chinese watercolor brush, the entire time without cleaning the brush.
Make shapes larger than you think they are and then carve back into them with another color or shape.
Trees emit VOC’s which scatter light waves which cause the bluing of objects with increasing distance.
Centurion double oil primed panels are wonderfully made and reasonably priced for plein air work.
½ inch goat mop brushes work well for the early stages of a painting.
Ask, “what is the main idea?” Crop, simplify and subtract. For instance, in a coastal scene, what is most important – the ships or the waves? That is the job of the artist to decide – and then we need to focus the viewer’s attention on one or the other – not both.
Repeat colors for unity.
She uses a clay shaper tool to remove paint to put in highlights or her signature.
Joe Anna Arnett:
Drawing during excursions away from the easel helps inform our paintings.
When considering perspective, think “where is my eye level line?” The Horizon line and the eye level line are usually the same thing. Lines like roof tops above that line slope down, lines below slope up.
Make an X from corner to corner on a painting to find the mechanical center, and then keep from placing anything important in that spot.
Value does the work – color takes the credit!
We can always paint a stallion, but it’s tough to bring a dead horse back to life. This refers to starting with stronger colors because we can go on top and grey down strong colors, but it’s tougher to jazz up boring colors.
An overworked look is caused not by taking too much time, but by too many centers of interest.
We program our minds – if we think it’s going to be hard or complicated it will be. If we think it will be simple we will discover simple solutions (in his sculptural painting style of one stroke placed next to another, rather than the blended rendering style which takes more steps).
He quoted Paul Strisik “you have to find the picture in a landscape” – it has to have a reason to be.
Too often skill overrides taste or art/painting.
Books on old master techniques are worthless. We need to know how they thought – why they did something – not how!
Outdoors, composition in painting is not paramount – in the studio it is.
Red is only red when holding in it in our hand. In the distance it is some other color.
When Dave was learning to paint his mentor said, “hey Dave, you know why these handles are so long?” Dave had been holding his brushes like a pencil.
A shadow tells us where an object sits in space – a highlight tells us what it is.
Neutral PH glue works great to seal MDF panels. He likes Bin or Kilz for smooth primed surface. (I should have told him about Ecos Air Purifying Primer – formerly Passivating Primer)
Getting notes of color & value on location allows us to make a larger more complex painting in the studio. Even 10-20 minutes painting outdoors can give us the info we need.
He uses Rembrandt Cool Grey added to white for distant snow.
Draw through, not around – that creates atmosphere and continuity.
Look for the twist in a trees trunk for interest.
Dark to light – cool to warm.
We want the contrast of shape/silhouette
When Albert was told he had only 30 minutes left he replied with a smile “30 minutes of pleasure!”
He places small sky holes in spots in the foliage that are just as bright (same color, value, intensity) as the large areas because he feels it creates energy.
Eric Rhoads has created a phenomenon – the Plein Air Convention and Expo is one of the best things to happen to outdoor painting.
And on a side note – he introduced his new book at the convention – Make More Money Selling Art. I’m 1/3 the way through my purchased copy and highly recommend it.
Next year’s Plein Air Convention is in San Francisco – I’m already registered. I hope to make the convention an annual trek.
Leave a comment, shoot me an email, or reach out on Facebook if you’re going as well – I would love to meet you there!