This past Thursday the 7th, there was yet another public painting event that I had pre-registered for. (Check out my last two blog posts to read about the events earlier in the week. There were 3 public painting events at Paint Annapolis this year.) Luckily I had gotten Thursday's canvas stamped on Wednesday so I could drive back down to Annapolis and immediately scout a spot, knowing I was going to be bushed from the previous night's Nocturne. There was a much larger geographic area to choose from, but not knowing Annapolis very well, I tended to stay on the beaten path. Unfortunately, I think that is what everyone else decided to do because I could not find parking even for my tiny Prius-C. It was a gloriously beautiful day and there seemed to be quite a few tourists in town. I got down there later than I would have liked to, but needed sleep and had to stop by the gallery to frame and wire my Nocturne painting. I drove around and around and around and all of the lots and garages were full. Finally I found a garage that had empty spots and was open 24 hours. This was a factor since I wasn't sure how long I was going to be down there. Some of the "commuter lots" shut down at 6 or 7. There was a block party- Art on the Avenue- where the day's paintings would be judged and that was at 5:30.
I was so drained from driving around and looking for parking and then trying to scout a place to paint. I found a dive-y looking bar called Stan and Joe's Saloon and went in for a beer and a bite and to try to make friends with a bartender so I would have a place to use the restroom if need be. I had noticed a liquor store across the street that I thought would be interesting to paint so I talked with the bartender about where she thought would be a good place to set up. The sidewalk was narrower here, or at least seemed so. Maybe it was just a little bit more trafficked in the day-time. She was very helpful and told me that she would like to see my painting when I was done.
I ended up setting up in what I imagined was a little smoker's nook between the entrance to Ram's Head and Café Olé. Thank you so much to owner Claudia Hassan for snapping some pictures of me in the act! Now I was really under pressure because I calculated how long it was going to take me to break down my set-up, frame my painting, and take it over to Maryland Avenue where Art on the Avenue (the block party) was happening. I guessed I'd have to stop around 4:45 to make it by 5:30 and that was cutting it close! I finally started painting around 1:30 which did not give me much time at all. Well, I painted fast and furious and did the best I could. I wasn't totally happy with my composition but with such limited time I couldn't wipe anything out and re-paint. A timer I had set in my phone went off at 4:45. I stopped painting, hurriedly packed up all of my supplies and ran my painting up to the 3rd floor of the parking garage. I ran back down for my bags which the friendly bartender had let me stow inside the bar while I ran with the wet painting and palette. My heart was pounding and I was sticky with sweat as I got to the top of the parking garage with all of my stuff. I chugged hot water that had been sitting on the passenger seat boiling all day in the hot summer sun. It was basically the opposite of thirst-quenching. Why did I leave it in the car and not take it with me? Who knows?
Framing a wet painting in the trunk of your car is not something I would recommend, but it was inevitable. It is more or less a recipe for how to get wet paint all over yourself and your car and anything else that happens to be around. I found these really great inexpensive open-back frames at Artist and Craftsmen Supply but they unfortunately didn't have any clips or a way to hold the painting in the frame so I had to hammer wire brads into the edges. It was so awkward and frustrating and it is a miracle that I didn't damage the surface of the painting beyond getting some dirt and grit on it.
Finally the painting was wired and ready to be taken to the block party. I was overheated and sweaty and vaguely delirious. I grabbed my easel and practically ran over there. I couldn't quite remember exactly how far it was and I didn't want to be late. What, pray tell, can make a stressful situation even more so? Shakespearean period street performers. My nerves were frazzled as I tried my best to tune them out. I set out to find a representative from the MFA (Maryland Federation of Art- the organizers) to try to figure out where to go and what to do. The woman that I found was the Executive Director (she happened to be the first person that I saw with an MFA t-shirt on). I had seen her earlier that afternoon to drop off my Nocturne for jurying and display so she recognized me as I approached her. "Oh hey, guess what? Your painting sold!" she said. Huh? What? I was flabbergasted! "Yeah, to me!" she said. Oh my goodness. I was so emotional. It had been such a rough day and that was about the greatest news in the world! I thanked her profusely and she directed me on where and how to set up for the judging.
I took a look at all of the other artists' pieces and they were all really, really good. There were a few that were outstanding. I felt good about my piece. I wasn't expecting it to win a prize but of course I was hoping that it was. It ended up not but I was totally ok with it. There was some stiff competition. Congratulations to the winners! I ultimately had fun and learned a lot. I left still feeling accomplished and like I want to continue to paint plein air.
I went home to Baltimore, tired and hungry. I picked up my husband Sean and headed to the local watering hole for a drink and some food. A friend of mine was there and had seen the painting that I had done earlier that day and posted on Instagram and he told me that he wanted to buy it. (Thanks, Greg!) I am so glad to have people like him in my life who want to support what I do so I can continue to do it.
Thanks so much to everyone from Maryland Federation of Art that helped to put on a wonderful event. I can't reiterate enough that it was such a great learning experience that I highly recommend to anyone starting out in plein air. And also a huge thank you to everyone that continues to buy my paintings and prints, hang out with me at the gallery, read my blog posts and support me in all kinds of different ways. It means the world.
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I glanced at my phone after the dinner rush on Friday night at the bar that I work and saw that I had a message from Lorraine. It was a picture message. I opened it and my knees buckled. My hand flew to my mouth as I processed what I was seeing.
It was a photo of a blue ribbon next to my Nocturne painting from the previous Wednesday night at Paint Annapolis!
Last Wednesday evening I drove down to Annapolis from Baltimore towards the end of rush hour. I needed to make it down by 7pm to get my canvas stamped at the Circle Gallery. This is something I have found out that they do for plein air painting events to make sure that you don't submit paintings that you made at home or at another event or something.
After making it down, getting my canvas stamped and miraculously finding parking on Main Street, I locked up the car and set off with the area map I had been given. I've also come to find out that most plein air events require you to paint within the boundaries of a designated area. The area for the Nocturne was much narrower other events so I was able to take off and survey pretty much the entire area which went from the water at the foot of Main Street all the way up to the end of West Street where there was an outdoor dining event/street festival. Although Dinner Under the Stars, as it was called presented a lovely scene, there were several factors that prompted me to scout a location back on Main Street. The first and major one being that I had found a prime parking spot and didn't want to attempt to move my car. Because of the cumbersome nature of my bulky amateur plein air equipment, I didn't want to have to trudge a quarter of a mile with it either. Secondly, it was hinted that it was a popular spot and I wanted to lend my voice to a spot that was less captured. And finally, I actually felt a really great energy back by where I had parked. There were a few bars and restaurants and the mood was convivial. It's probably the bartender in me but I felt like I wanted to be where it seemed like people were having a good time.
Speaking of having a good time, having walked back down Main Street to near where my car was parked I was sizing up the bar across the street from where I was standing. A guy was walking along the sidewalk and must have noticed me contemplating the bar. He passed me and then stopped and turned back to say hello and I then remembered seeing him at the Quick Draw judging that past Sunday. I admit now that I couldn't remember which piece was his although I said that I thought I did. It's hard to put names with faces AND paintings, at least for me. We were both scanning around us for that perfect composition as we spoke. We both mused that it was still a little too light out. Some of the painters had already began laying in their underpainting. We could see a few of them up and down Main Street. Personally, I wasn't in any kind of hurry. So, in search of a little bit of inspiration while the light outside dimmed, we headed to the object of my aforementioned gaze to drain a couple pints.
We sat towards the back of the dark bar. Ronaldo Dorado and I exchanged social networking info and talked about the wacky world of folks that like to paint outside. It was really great to connect with someone that shares similar sentiments and interests. He likes to do it because it's fun and so do I. It was such a nice exchange and definitely helped to calm my nerves. Fortified with a little alcohol in the bloodstream, we high-fived, wished each other good-luck, and set off on our separate ways.
I headed back across the street to see how the light had changed now that the sun had dipped behind the State House. Wow, I was glad that I hadn't started sooner because the bar that we were just drinking in that had the pretty flower boxes and flags jutting from second floor windows was in almost total darkness save for a couple of jarring neon signs in the lower windows. My eyes drifted next door to what looked to be some kind of greasy-spoon diner. The more I looked at it the more I fell in love. It was about 8:15 or so and there was still twilight in the sky. I set up in the alcove of a store that was closed and arrived at my composition pretty quickly.
The first thing I noticed was that a lot of passersby wanted to see what I was doing. I happened to be set up so that my back was to the door of the store in the alcove so if someone wanted to see what I was working on they had to kind of shimmy sideways and slide their shoulder in beside where I was standing. Their disappointment was palpable as I had only just begun. "I just got started, " I'd say. With that they would invariably look at what they thought that I was trying to paint and then walk away looking bored or confused. One of the folks who did take some time to stop and have a conversation with me was Maryland State Senator John Astle. He let me snap a pic with him! Luckily for my concentration and productivity, the passersby became fewer and farther between as the night wore on. Middle aged couples dressed in khakis and capri pants gave way to drunk 20-somethings that were more interested in Jaeger-bombs and getting laid than making small talk with artists.
I painted and painted without a break and the next thing I know my pal Lorraine was walking toward me from across the street to say hi. At that point I was putting on the finishing touches as I was worried that the business was going to turn the lights off. They had just closed. I was feeling pretty good about the piece so I decided to pack up and head back to Baltimore, bleary eyed and hungry. It was around 1am and I regretted not getting a hotel room.
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"There goes the tent!" yelled Lorraine as a deafening gust of wind hurled the 10'x10' pop-up tent up and over our heads, across the sidewalk, and upside-down into the street. I stood there stunned. One of the legs of the tent had pounded my left forearm as it sailed about twenty feet in the wind. I tried to snap out of it and feebly helped Lorraine to right the tent. We had just gotten set up- not an easy feat given the wind and rain. The Quick Draw (Dueling Brushes) was to start at 9 am promptly and it was already close to 9:15 and now our shelter was useless-- broken and rendered unusable due to high winds.
Lorraine packed up the tent and I moved my stuff a few yards away so that I would be able to make use of a low step as a make-shift table because my camp-table was too light-weight for the gusts. The wind began to die down a little bit but the rain was starting to pick up. I had my new rain-coat and thankfully, despite the anticipated use of Lorraine's tent, I had thrown a small umbrella in with my plein air set-up. I knew it was ridiculous but I did the best I could to try to hold the tiny umbrella over me and my painting as I worked.
I've never painted in the rain. I use oil paints when I am painting outside and I assumed that since oil and water don't mix that I would be fine. What I did not account for was the canvas absorbing moisture and not being able to get the paint to adhere to it. I tried mixing in alkyd medium (which can act as an emulsifier) to no avail. I intermittently blotted the surface with a paper towel to try to remove the water but that only smeared the paint around more. It was a lot like trying to frost a cake that just came out of the oven.
There was finally a little break in the rain. It was still drizzling but it dissipated enough that I was able to work on my composition and lay down some blocks of color. I was feeling pretty good about my subject matter and about as good as I could feel about my paint application given the circumstances.
Almost as soon as I had that thought, as if the gods were mocking me, the heavens opened up. Somehow there was enough rain to beat the paints into running like watercolors. I tried to persevere but I looked down on the ground at my painting- which is where I had to work on it because my easel would have made it a sail, and I was full of disappointment. For as much effort as I had put in to this piece it should have been at a certain point where the composition and colors where clearly defined and I could start punching up highlights and really digging in to the "fun stuff" that happens once the composition and drawing have been taken care of. What I saw was a runny mess.
I thought about crying. Sometimes the tears just come when I am angry and upset but I think I was just feeling too disappointed and defeated to cry. Maybe I was just too tired and dehydrated. I'd gotten up at 6:30 am (ridiculously early for this night owl) and had a white knuckle car ride down to Annapolis from Baltimore because of the weather and my general distaste for driving. It was probably about 10:30 at this point and it was raining hard. I decided to throw in the towel. Lorraine, a print-maker, went off to retrieve her car so she could pull some prints in it- it was absolutely impossible to print outdoors in that kind of weather. I packed up my stuff and moved it to the curb on State Circle so I could go get my car and load it in. Everything I had was getting drenched and soaked but my car was parked about a quarter mile away in a parking garage. There was no way that I could carry it all.
I drove back to the site where I had left all my stuff while stress-eating a Pro-Bar that tasted sickeningly sweet. A couple of thoughts crossed my mind as I was driving the short distance back. The "Baltimore girl" in me mused that someone had probably stolen some of my stuff by now or that maybe there would be a cop waiting for me for leaving an unattended bag in front of the State House. I wondered about the other painters' paintings and how they may be handling their challenges. I contemplated the beautiful painting I could have made if the conditions had been better. My hopes of an award were washed away with the deluge of rain. I double parked and shivering and cold, heaved my sopping wet painting supplies into the back of the car- while doing so smearing paint all over everything. Climbing into the driver's seat once again, I sighed a very long sigh. I sat there and turned the heat on to try to get warm. This was JUNE for crying out loud, how was it so cold and nasty? I glanced to the passenger side and saw my palette. I thought back to earlier that morning-- mere hours ago and how I had joked with the woman who checked me in that I was "in it to win it". I looked at the time and absently started driving back to the Circle Gallery not quite ready to go home.
I found a spot and pulled over. It was about 10 minutes before 11. I grabbed the wet-with-water unfinished painting from the back seat and rummaged blindly for some paper towels. Miraculously they were only damp, not wet, and had a little absorbency left in them. I turned my front vents on full blast and full heat and determinedly tried my best to dry the surface of the painting. When it got to the point where I thought that it would accept paint again, I began frantically smearing and dabbing trying my best to remember the scene. I had a not-so-great photo reference I had taken with my iPhone. Thankfully I usually instinctively do that for my own reference later and sometimes for social media. I dabbed away at the painting and looked up at the clock. It was 11:10 and I still had to frame it and make it back to the gallery space for the jurying process at 11:30! I fumbled with one of the new open-back ready-made frames that I had gotten from Artist & Craftsmen Supply and raced to get there before jurying began at 11:30am. Now it was raining hard again. It had actually never stopped, I had just been in my car. I got to the gallery. But it was the wrong place. I stood confused holding my painting that was being rained on again. I looked around and then I followed another woman who had also gone to the wrong place down to a storefront on Main Street where I reunited with Lorraine who was already there.
I looked around at the other pieces. There were really good. I was shocked to see my piece also actually looked pretty good. I had been working on it on my steering wheel so I couldn't really get back from it to check it out properly. I ran to retrieve my easel from the car, which I had forgotten to grab to display it.
So we mingle for a while and everyone makes the rounds and checks out each others paintings. I think there was some artists' family and collectors there as well. At around 12:15 the staff starts making announcements about the jurying process and the juror stands up to announce the prizes. There were 3 categories and the second to be announced was the category that I had entered. They begin by calling the name of the third place winner and holy smokes it was me! I stand up to claim my prize and thank the juror. Wow!
The second prize winner's name is called and it's Lorraine! No one comes forward. Where was she? The bathroom? Everyone is looking around for someone to come forward. I send here a text to let her know she won and about two minutes later she comes barreling through the door. "I'm sorry I was eating a sandwich!" She had gotten hungry and went across the street for a quick bite! The gentleman that won first place for our category was Rajendra KC. The prize was well deserved. His watercolor painting was a stunner and captured the dreariness of the day perfectly.
By the time the judging and the mingling was over, I was utterly wiped out! It was an emotional roller-coaster of a day. I learned a lot of lessons about plein air painting in terms of set up, do's and don'ts of painting in less-than-ideal weather, and not giving up. It's super corny but I was so close to giving up. I really wanted to. While I was sitting out there in the rain hunched over my painting I looked over a couple of times to see Lorraine hunched over her print and I knew at least up until that point that I couldn't give up. She was still cranking' it out so I needed to, too. Surround yourself with people that are living their best lives and it will help you to live yours.
I'm extremely grateful to everyone that has been there for me and supported me. Even just by reading this blog post you are showing that you care. I really appreciate it.
Believe it or not I am going back down for two more Paint Annapolis public events. The next one is a Nocturne (night-time plein air) on Wednesday. I'm really hoping it doesn't rain... Much love.
The Highlandtown Wine Festival 2018 was the third weekend in April. I decided to represent my art gallery, Night Owl Gallery, there this year. Here is a short time-lapse of me painting! Huge 'thank you' to my friend Becky that thought to record this for me!!
Even though the space is only about a block from the festival, I found that there was hardly any foot traffic last year. Because the vendor entry fee was so low- a bargain at $25- and with the event being so close and accessible, I thought that actually being at the festival would be beneficial to my marketing strategy. As a fine artist, I rely heavily on grass roots and word-of-mouth. What better way to get the word out about what I do then by showing what I do with a live-painting demonstration?
I also thought this was a good opportunity to get some practice in because I am planning on participating in some of the Paint Annapolis events sponsored by the Maryland Federation of Art. Also to note, they are running a 50th Anniversary membership special, so you can renew a lapsed membership with the MFA for just $50. More info can be found here.