Another One for the Record Books

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Getting warmed up for the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo!

If, like me, you’re still settling back at home after a fun-filled week in the Smokies for the 11th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE), I thought you might enjoy a few highlights of our time together. If you missed the event this year, we hope these photos and stories inspire you to join us next May in … Lake Tahoe!

Starting Off on the Right Foot
Aaron Schuerr led a pre-convention pastel workshop. “When you’re painting en plein air, you have more or less nine minutes before the light changes,” he said. “Keep it quick.”
At the action-packed opening ceremony, attendees gathered from around the country (and the world) to kick off a week of demonstrations, paint-outs, parties, and more.
PleinAir Magazine Publisher Eric Rhoads advises that if you’re not having fun, you’re not learning ~ so we had FUN!
Kim Lordier’s painting “Baby It’s Cold” (pastel, 24 x 36) won Best Pastel of the Year during the announcement of this year’s Annual Plein Air Salon. (Unfortunately, Kim could not join us this year, so is not pictured.)
From Online to In-Person at the Plein Air Convention

First-timer Gretchen Wurth said she knew she had to come to the Plein Air Convention when it was announced that the location is practically in her backyard; her husband even insisted on it after seeing her enthusiasm for Plein Air Live, Realism Live, and Watercolor Live. “I’m just so excited,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed to be here because it’s so cool to meet and talk with everybody that you see online, including Eric Rhoads.”

She added that even before PACE officially began, it felt welcoming and friendly, even though she was intimidated at first because of all the “big players” here, including some amazing artists from around the country and even the world. 

We learned from more than 75 top artists who were on our faculty this year!
Paint Outs

Picture this: You look in one direction and spot a cool, burbling river running alongside a forested valley trail; or turn in the other direction and enjoy a view of a golden, open field at the base of tree-covered mountains leading up to a perfect white-cloud sky. This was the choice our attendees had at Day 2 of the Plein Air Convention last week.

Joining the hundreds of us there was also a fly fisherman (perfect for adding a figure to the landscape), roaming chickens, and even majestic elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center of the Great Smoky Mountains in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Many painters found a cozy place to set up along the bank to paint, including our “Basics of Plein Air” group.
Other painters lined up along the edge of the park’s open spaces.

After another full morning and afternoon of painting demonstrations across five stages on Day 3, we headed outdoors for another opportunity to put into practice everything – or at least something! – we learned. Charter buses took many artists to the charming Darnell Farms, and others headed to the Oconaluftee Indian Village & Cherokee Botanical Gardens to paint.

Some lined up along the banks of the Tuckasegee River at Darnell Farms.
In a unique opportunity for painters, Native Americans from the Oconaluftee Indian Village modeled throughout the site.

On Day 4, we returned to Darnell Farms in Bryson City, North Carolina. Despite a healthy downpour, attendees found a variety of scenes to inspire them.

“It was amazing to look at the sea of plein air artists.” ~ Terry Metzler, on one of our PACE paint-outs.
Eric Rhoads and our faculty (visible in their yellow hats) were on site to help any artist who needed a little guidance.

Pastel Demos

Here are a few highlights from the pastel stage (all pastel, all the time!):

With years of easel miles, Lyn Diefenbach showed us how she constructs a painting from a fairly ordinary photo by using methods she developed en plein air. She talked tactics for composition and the importance of values, edges, and color relationships, as well as translating the energy seen in the subject into a painterly rhythm.

Jacob Aguiar took us through his process for painting atmosphere and distant mountains. Beginning with a local color underpainting, he discussed color choices to achieve particular atmospheric effects, and finished with specific mark-making approaches.

In his “Alpine Splendor” demo, Aaron Schuerr revisited one of his favorite spots — a mountain meadow high in the Spanish Peaks of Montana. He demonstrated how to juxtapose simplified forms to create pleasing relationships, how to carefully rearrange a scene to emphasize scale and distance, and how to contrast a warmly lit peak with a shadowy foreground to create the drama of a moment.

From “How to Paint Dramatic Skies in Pastel” with Albert Handell, one of many Plein Air Convention favorites

Every pastel color has more than one color to it, and in plein air, lighter pastel colors will look darker, and dark colors will look lighter (and you will have at least twice that number of colors in your plein air box). Albert Handell demonstrated how to apply this using a dramatic desert sky as a subject.

William A. Schneider showed how a few simple strokes can make your paintings sing! By incorporating impressionistic figures into your landscape or cityscape, you will add movement, scale, narrative, and drama. William demonstrated several “hacks” to create believable figures. He also showed how to avoid the three errors artists often make when first trying to integrate figures into their paintings.

A stronger start leads to a more successful finish! Karen Margulis has simplified the plein air process and shared her three no-fail methods for starting a pastel painting. Karen also shared tools to overcome the challenges of plein air with pastel, including how to narrow your focus and how to avoid overworking your paintings.

Join us next year for the 12th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo – you don’t want to miss it!


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PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.

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