Sunday, July 28, 2013

Plein Air Event Report: Castine Plein Air Festival


I've just returned from a wonderful weekend at the First Annual Castine Plein Air Festival.  We had great weather for painting, a beautiful and very welcoming town to paint in, and a jam-packed exhibition with good sales.  But when I drove out Friday, I wondered if the weather would cooperate.

The weather that day certainly wasn't promising.  In fact, I did the three-hour drive from Campobello Island in a continuous downpour that made me think of some tropical Bangladesh monsoon.  (We had 5" of rain in about 24 hours.)  I packed my golf umbrella, raincoat and L.L. Bean "duck" boots just in case.  By the time I got to Castine, though, the rain had pretty much petered out. Low clouds scraped their bellies over the treetops.

I arrived a couple of hours before the scheduled pre-event gathering of artsits.  After checking in with my hosts and with Dan Graziano, the artist who founded and spearheaded the event, I drove around to re-familiarize myself with the area.  (I'd last been there in May.)  Of course, with nearly 40 artists participating, it was impossible to not run into some of the other painters.  One was sketching the Dyce Head lighthouse and a couple more were taking photos of the same.  I was wondering how many more were lurking in the bushes.

I finally ended up at the waterfront for dinner with the artists at Danny Murphy's Pub.  I ran into some old friends and quickly began to make some new ones.  We all retired early, since we had to be at the town green to get our panels stamped at 7:30 a.m.   After meeting my two artist housemates, I went to bed promptly and fell asleep to the sound of a bell buoy ringing plaintively in the harbour.

"State of Maine and Pentagoet" - 9x12, oil - available

Morning arrived with a dry breeze. Clouds still lingered, but I could tell it wouldn't be long before the sun came out.  I took a short walk to get a feeling for the day, got my panels stamped and then headed down to my first location.  At the waterfront, I picked out a spot with a good view of the Maine Maritime Academy's training ship, the 449-foot T/S State of Maine and its attendant tug, the Pentagoet.  Who wouldn't want a painting of a cute tug, I thought?  Apparently,  I wasn't the only one, for at least five other painters set up to paint the same scene.

"Blue Angel" 9x12, oil - SOLD

As the sun came out, the heat began to build up, and I was glad I'd put on sunblock that morning.  After finishing the tug and wanting to take advantage of my ideal parking space on what was becoming a busy Saturday, I went over to the nearby boatyard.  I painted a sailboat in drydock, the Blue Angel.  When I'd finished this one, I ordered some fish and chips at the waterfront take-out and sat and watched the other painters interact with the public.

Painting while the public mills around is always a tricky thing, especially for an event like this.  You want to do your best, most salable work -- after all, sales are the goal of a fund-raiser -- but you don't want to turn off a possible buyer.  Creating finished work requires concentration; chatting up customers requires you to break that concentration.  You can't do both.  I am polite when people visit, but if I start losing focus, I let them know - politely - that I am "on the clock" and need to get back to work.  Some folks don't fully understand why you're out there, so sometimes you have to spell it out for them.  Most people do understand, though.

"Wadsworth Cove - Red Barn" 9x12, oil - SOLD

After lunch, it had gotten hot enough that I decided to look for a breeze.  I found one on the other side of the peninsula, at Wadsworth Cove.  Also, for me boats require a great deal of effort, and I was looking for a scene to relax with.  I really enjoyed the clouds and the glimpse of the red barn in the distance.  For this piece, I was awarded Honorable Mention.


I then had about two hours remaining before I had to frame and deliver work to the Academy's Harold Alfond Student Center, where the sale would be.  I'd already done three paintings in a day, which is my norm for events like this, but I felt like painting one more.  I decided to hit the lighthouse, and I'm glad I did.  The keeper's house was nicely backlit, and I always love painting a backlit scene.

"End of the Road" - 9x12, oil - available

Finally, it was back to the house to frame, photograph and document the work.  I'd pre-wired all my frames and had boxes to carry them in; this is always a good idea, and I'm surprised more of the painters didn't do this.  I'd overheard many saying that they had to wire up frames.  That cuts into painting time!  Since I'd pre-wired mine, I even had time for a quick shower.


At this point, I don't know how many people attended the sale or how many paintings were sold, but I will say that the hall was packed like sardines most of the evening.  (I know that's a tired cliché, but it fits.)  I was glad to get there a few minutes early to take a photo of the food table and to preview the paintings.  Besides the Honorable Mention award, I'm happy to say that I sold two of my four paintings.


All of the artists said, when I spoke to them at evening's end, that they were tired.  But, as they say, "it was a good tired."  I went home and crashed and then got up early this morning to head home.

I want to thank Dan Graziano, the Castine Arts organization and all the volunteers and hospitable residents of Castine who made this a successful event.  Thank you, and I hope you will do it again next year!

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