"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.