Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Plein crazy!

Woo hoo! It was Wednesday and instead of going to work, I’d be attending a “turn your plein air painting into a large studio painting” class, conducted by Rick McClure at Nicole’s Studio in Raleigh.

“Plein air” is painting outdoors. The official phrase is “painting en plein air.” That’s French and sounds better than “painting outdoors,” even though bugs, wind and ever-changing light are involved in both.

I’d loaded the car the night before (I’m no fool), and turned on Channel 11 to get the weather. The class schedule was to paint plein air Wednesday, then paint in the studio Thurs-Fri. “Big Weather,” ch. 11’s morning weather guy, stood in front of a radar screen and proclaimed: “No rain today!”

Behind him, the radar showed a huge expanse of green with bands of yellow and orange, heading in Raleigh’s direction.

“No rain!” he repeated, though I had to turn up the volume because the rain outside my place was making a racket. Okay, whatever.

Hit the road with my Mapquest printout. I’d never been to Raleigh’s Pullen Park. Nicole informed us that the park wouldn’t be open when class began, but there were bathrooms nearby at fast-food places on Western Blvd.

McDonalds and Wendy’s were indeed open, but they were quite a ways from Pullen Park, so I had to turn around to hit them and then come back to the park. It was drizzling pretty well.

Rick had set up class under some large trees that blocked some of it, and proceeded to do a demo. At one point his picture was gorgeous, but then he rubbed out all this magnificent stone work and redid it to demonstrate a technique. After he finished the lovely painting, he took a rag and wiped his board clean so he could begin another painting.

Ack! I know writers say, “Kill your babies,” but this was ridiculous!

Anyway, we adjourned into the now-open park to do our own paintings. I scouted, then got my equipment out the car and set up shop next to the paddle-boat pier. The two park employees there watched me most of the time until they got bored. After about an hour, the sun peeked out. Then five minutes later, one would have been hard-pressed to find a single cloud in the blazingly blue sky.

Before and after
It was my first time out painting in over a year. I did wretchedly. Bleah! But the final half-hour I managed to pull the image out from being absolute barf. Rick hadn’t been by to check on me. (He said he couldn’t find me, and had no class list to go by.)

Andy and Opie were there!
Broke for lunch. The Pullen Park café has a pretty large menu. You can choose from healthy stuff or more traditional fare. They use as many local ingredients as possible. I went for the Carolina dogs with a fruit cup as a nod to nutrition. The first bite of the piled-high dogs sent chili and slaw all over my tee. Sigh.

Hiked around looking for a good spot for painting #2, and was getting tired. Found a spot, retrieved my equipment (I’m not going to hike while carting fifty thousand pounds of art supplies), set up, and tried to do the world’s fastest painting, as I had only 2 hours left in the class day.

The small versions.
Finished a half-hour early. Rick had made it by twice this time. I was right next to the kiddie train track, and every time it came around nice people would shout, “Lookin’ good!” to me. The park’s visitors (and staff) were quite curious about all the artists painting.

The next day was for the studio. I’d asked Nicole for directions, and she kept saying, “As you know” to talk me through. Though I’d lived in Raleigh back in 1981 about two miles from her studio, I’d never been down that way and no, I didn’t know. Another woman gave me easy directions.

Despite a traffic jam on I-40, I made it in time Thursday morning and set up along with the class. Rick gave us a demo and then we went to work on our own larger paintings, done from our smaller plein air stuff and the reference photos most of us had rushed out the night before to get developed at Walmart. Thank heavens for digital photography and one-hour processing!

Rick was primarily interested in teaching us to utilize contrast. High contrast at our focal point; lower the farther we got from that. Contrast can be in value (white vs black), color (contrasting vs analogous), temperature (warm vs cool), detail (highly vs not), that kind of thing. Plus a painting should be primarily one thing: one value, one temperature, etc.

He told us what kind of support he used for plein air (marker board, cut up. Turns out it’s archival if gessoed on its non-white side), and that the Gamsol people now make an oil varnish you can apply as soon as the paint is dry to the touch, instead of having to wait up to a year to do so. This time lag was a major reason why I’d switched from oils to acrylics in recent years. That and the smell/health problem with oils.

But I had a stash of new alkyd (very fast-drying) oils and painted as hard as I could go. Rick did make the rounds of the class, though it seemed to me that no one got particularly in-depth tutoring. Still, I've seen MUCH worse. He'd often go to the front of the class and give great mini-lectures that applied to many of us.

I think I learned a lot. We'll see. Thanks, Rick!

That day I ate down the block at “PieBird” restaurant, which specializes (surprise!) in pies. Chicken pot pie the first day with a salad—fabulous! And the second day I had that same salad but with a peppery quiche (let me wipe the drool from my lips) lorraine. O!M!G!!! Yum-zilla!

Packed up after Friday lunch so I could leave quickly. My target was 3:30, so I could hit The Avengers across town. Theoretically class ended at 4, but they were trying to wrap things up early because the gallery was having an opening that night and needed to clean/set up. Movie time was 4.

We started the class critiques at 1:15 or so. They went in depth in places; other places, not so much. I’d thought I’d finished with some fairly okay paintings, but once I lined ‘em up with everyone else’s… Well.

I can fix ‘em. They’ll turn out fine.

Rick called me the “queen of gray,” since I didn’t use bright colors. Funny; I looked at the paintings and saw bright green, green, green. I’d fought hard to utilize atmospheric perspective—that’s where things blue/lighten up the farther they are from you, due to the atmosphere piling up between you and the object—which was also a thing Rick had stressed. Apparently I’d done it too well? Me, whom a teacher had once sniffed at and muttered, “Oh, we have a colorist here.”

Oh well. Like I said, I can fix the paintings and in fact am looking forward to doing so.

3:30 came and went. As soon as he finished the final syllable of his “glad to have been here; class is over” speech, I grabbed my four canvases and shot out the door (with everyone else).

I’d checked Mapquest to see how to get to Western Blvd, where the Mission Valley Cinema was. Go south on Blount until you hit it, then turn right. Simple enough. But no intersection said “Western Blvd.” I went past so many familiar-sounding streets, and then past Martin Luther King Blvd—what, Raleigh has an MLK Blvd? I never hear it mentioned—and didn’t realize that MLK turns into Western about a block from Blount.

After about four tries at different routes, I headed toward State because I knew that Hillsborough St. bounds it on the north and Western Blvd, on the south. The problem there is finding a cross-street. I turned at a couple of lights only to find the street suddenly becoming a dead-end parking lot. Finally made it to the theater by 4:10. So I’d miss some previews, so what? “We don’t show previews,” the ticket guy told me. “Maybe one. Not two.”

Great. The only theatre in the US that doesn’t show previews. Still, I’d only missed the very beginning of the first action sequence and could figure out what was going on. It was a pretty darned good movie with a richly comic book feel. I mean, by the end I felt I was wearing my old Fangirl boots and was really getting into it—even if it was Marvel and not DC. Is DC planning on making any good movies with their characters? Shouldn’t they be? (No, I don’t like the dark Batman movies that much, and heard the reviews about GL.)

I’d had to bring my solvent in with me, since I didn’t want it sitting out in the hot trunk for hours. Clank-clank. No one questioned me about it, thank goodness.

I’d decided to stay the night at the Ramada across from the State Fairgrounds as a relaxing treat. During my search for the theater I’d discovered Blue Ridge Rd and so took that as a short cut. Ah, so that’s where that end of it goes. I’d been down the other way a million times.

The Ramada is sorta a cross between a motel and hotel. Two stories, very nicely decorated, at least in lobby and restaurant, and it has a sweet little pool. All rooms have balconies. But there’s only one elevator waaaay in back for maids, etc. If your leg is screaming at you the way mine was at me (and that night it went into full-out tantrum), and your room is on the second floor in the front, you have to walk a looooong way. I’d also been looking forward to ordering room service for breakfast, a treat I like to have at hotels on occasion when I feel deserving.

But in order to get the menu, you have to go down to the front desk and pick up one, which is only good for what they’ll have for the next three hours. No, you can’t pick up a menu for breakfast. There isn’t one, or there isn’t one yet. So I had to drag myself down to the dining room early Saturday morning for breakfast. (Breakfast was free.) It was a bit greasy but okay. There were unlimited refills (or maybe just one) on the OJ, something I’ve never run into before, but the OJ was watered down quite a bit.

Comfy bed and quiet, though. And dirt-cheap. Also, on my way out the lady at the desk gave me a room key with Thor on it. (I'd asked if they were giving away their keen if small Avengers promotional stand-up piece.)

After I’d loaded the car I headed off downtown for the annual Raleigh Paint-Out, sponsored by Local Color Gallery. As usual I missed the Blue Ridge exit for Wade Ave. (don’t know what it is about that, but if something’s blocking the signage, as it was this time, I always miss seeing the overpass and think it’s one light farther down than it is) and couldn’t recall which street the turn-off for Crabtree Valley was, so went all the way down to Glenwood to turn into town.

Got to the gallery, signed in, got my canvas stamped, and glanced around outside. Where would I set up? We had from between Peace and Hillsborough to paint, with a block either side of Glenwood. From the steps of the gallery I saw some interesting gingerbread on one house that was catching the low morning light. “Good enough,” said my aching right knee, so I set up camp nearby.

This section of Glenwood was incorporating the paint-out with buskers (had to google that one) for a low-level street festival. They’re thinking of doing this every 4 months or so. The Hybernian Pub gave everyone involved free lunch. Yum! Great cheeseburger and tea! I’ll have to return and actually pay for a meal there to thank them for their generosity.

Dan Nelson stopped by while I was painting. He was looking for a spot to set up as a busker. I mentioned (okay, maybe ten times) just how terrifically handsome he was that day. (He's judging the paint-out and I couldn't afford a monetary bribe.)

Got near to finishing my painting and realized that I hadn’t made much effort to transfer what I’d learned in class to it. Decided on painting some yellow trim blue-green in order to change temperature around the focal point. That looked kinda funky. Hm. Oh well, it was finished enough. I always know when a plein air painting is finished. Conditions fulfill one of three criteria:
1) I'm starving
2) I have to pee
3) I'm starving and I have to pee.

I grabbed a frame and my framing kit and went into the gallery. “Do we have to put the entire address on this, or is the street good enough?” I asked the staff, the people who had relieved those who greeted us and had set the whole thing up but who had left around noon. These folks didn’t realize that all paintings had to have the address of whatever we’d painted on them, so the gallery can send out invitations (and hopefully get sales) to the owners of said addresses. I had to point this out in the contest rules to them. Also, paintings have to be priced, artist identified, etc. They knew nothing about this and indeed had just checked in two paintings that didn’t have any of that info on them. Whoops.

As I filled out final forms, a woman came up from outside. One of the buskers had done her portrait in charcoal, and she wanted to enter it in the contest. Well, the contest said that you had to have had your canvas stamped before you started (so they knew you hadn’t started painting say, the day before), you had to be the artist, the painting had to be framed, and that paintings were landscapes. But the staffers assured her she could enter. Wonder how that’ll turn out.

Repacked the car, drove to Cameron Village, parked in the shade (those cans of solvent!), and caught the final 20 minutes of Leanne Banks’ workshop on brainstorming techniques for romance writers. Sounded like it was interesting stuff, and I got the hand-out for it later.

Home again, home again, collapse on the bed! One of these days I’ve got to take a vacation and you know, vacation with it.