Artist Aaron Schuerr takes Best Plein Air Pastel Award in October’s PleinAir Salon for Keyhole Panorama.
I asked Aaron for the inspiration behind his winning piece.
“I painted Keyhole Panorama during the 24th Annual Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational over two long sessions- about eight hours total.
Keyhole Arch is an iconic scene, the subject of countless paintings over the past century. I made an attempt at painting it last year, but it might have been the most boring painting in the history of Keyhole paintings!
I had a 12×24-inch frame and board, so I was on the lookout for a panoramic scene that would work in this format. I came up with a mashup- the bougainvillaeas on the left and the arch on the right. If you stand in the spot, you’d see that I’ve eliminated a good section of the cliff, as well as a section of the Montage Hotel.
The two things that caught my eye were the arch and the bright flowers, so I made the painting about what grabbed my attention, not simply about what I saw. The rugged cliffs and delicate flowers make an interesting contrast, so I decided that with a panoramic format, I could juxtapose the two elements in an interesting way.
I think if we hone in on how we experience a place rather than slavishly reproducing what is there, we’ll get closer to an emotional truth that resonates. That said, it was challenging to get the scale and transition right. I was careful with the drawing of the arch and its relationship to the surroundings, as that’s what catches people’s attention. Beyond that, I pulled in what added to the interest of the arch and eliminated what did not. A lot of this is thinking on the fly. Make a decision and go for it. Sometimes it flops and sometimes it flies.
I started each session before the sun was high enough to highlight the cliff edges, so I started with the general silhouette and then worked on the cliff highlights late in each session. In this way, I was able to get a specific light pattern while painting longer than I can normally get away with on location.
The thing I love about the Laguna Plein Air Invitational is that it’s totally immersive. I typically left the house at 8 am or earlier, and, because I was working on a series of nocturnes, I returned at 10:30 pm or later. The biggest challenge is finding time to cram in some calories between painting sessions!”
I asked Aaron if he regularly goes out to paint on location and if there are specific places that draw him back again and again? Or is he on the lookout for a new view?
“The bulk of my work is plein air – in both oil and pastel. It’s where I feel most true, most authentically me, so I make it a priority. When I’m home, I slow down a bit and spend more time on studio paintings, but even then, I get outside pretty much every week.
I’ve also been backpacking my painting gear into the mountains, generally on solo trips. Then it’s just me, the mountains, and endless painting motifs from dawn to dusk. Yes, the pack is ridiculously heavy, but it’s always worth the trouble.
I’m a big fan of painting the same locations over and over again. I have a relationship with some views that’s going on for twenty years. We’re like an old married couple! There’s always something new to discover. I’ve watched trees grow up and marveled at how the same view can change from day to day, season to season.”
What’s your set-up for going en plein air?
“I have an oil setup and a pastel set up for plein air. Often the hardest decision is what medium to work in. Last year at the Laguna Plein Air Invitational I was bombing on most of my pastels, so I focused more on oil. This year I felt like I had rediscovered pastel – I was making discoveries, surprising myself, and that is a rare thing! Growth isn’t something you can force – you just have to put the time in and be open, and it’ll happen.
I have a modified Strada Easel for pastel, with an extra box that I can put on a tray attached to the tripod.”
What advice would you give others who are thinking about entering?
“I won the year’s “Best Pastel” for the 2021 Plein Air Salon on a painting that I almost didn’t enter. It was a pastel that I enjoyed doing, but it didn’t seem substantial enough to win in the monthly competition, let alone for the entire year! So, you never know. If a painting feels authentic in its creation, then it will resonate.”
Thanks for all this info Aaron. And congratulations on winning the PleinAir Magazine Award for the Laguna Plein Air Invitational for Keyhole Panorama.
Alan Flattmann Wins Best in Show Award for “The Two Chefs”
Alan Flatmann is the winner of the Best of Show award at the Southeastern Pastel Society’s 2022 ‘All About Pastel’ National Exhibition. (You can see all the winners here.)
Juror Linda Richichi had this to say about Flattmann’s painting:
“The Two Chefs by Alan Flattmann kept pulling me from the very beginning. This is truly a masterful work of art. Every inch has something to give the viewer. Not only is it enjoyable visually but it touches the other senses. Can’t you almost feel the heat, smell the aromas and sense the hustle and bustle still going on despite these two chefs taking a moment to pose? This is an inspiring work of art with a perfect silver frame to set off a feeling of metal in the kitchen.”
An additional CONGRATULATIONS to the Southeastern Pastel Society as it celebrates its 35th Anniversary!!
And that’s it for this time!
PS. Have you entered the PleinAir Salon December competition yet?? Do it now!