Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sedona Plein Air Festival – Update 2

Storms loom over Jerome

In one way, the event this year reminds me of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art a few years ago.  The monsoon season went late, and every day saw a dangerous lightning storm that cropped up around midday.  Getting a painting done required one to get out early, to work fast and to be ready to scramble off the rim at the first crack of thunder.   We haven't had any storms quite like that, but we have had rain somewhere each day.  Also, the danger is chiefly the threat of getting wet, which is merely inconvenient and not life-threatening.

Since I am still trying to catch up with life after our long drive from the Canadian Maritimes, I chose to stay close to home on Sunday and to paint in a favorite location that I know well.  Doing so eliminated much of the walking around and looking for something to paint.  You lose a lot of energy, not to mention time, in that.  Since the theme this year is "Water in the Desert," I chose a location along Spring Creek:

"Above the Confluence" 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

I had another reason for conserving energy—I wanted to paint at least one large (for me, anyway) oil painting this week.  Monday I took out my large-format gear and drove up the canyon just after dawn to Slide Rock State Park.  The clouds again seemed to be building, but by the time I got to the park, the sun began to peek out.

Slide Rock State Park

I haven't painted in that park in a few years, and I'd forgotten that it's a hike just to get to the creek.  If you're carrying nothing more than a water bottle, that's not so bad, but I was burdened with a gear-laden backpack, a big Gloucester easel slung over one shoulder, and a large paintbox and two 16x20 canvases.  What's more, I decided that the spot I wanted to paint in was at the very farthest point on the trail.  Fortunately, it takes time to set everything up, and for me, that is a relaxing and meditative process.  Plus, once I got to my spot, I dumped the gear and took a short walk, not just to verify that I did indeed have a good position, but also to loosen up and catch my breath.

Set up by the creek

The light was changeable and the format large, so I blocked this one in quickly with a brush before picking up my painting knife.  For my oil paintings this week, I am trying to work just with the knife.  For  me, the knife gives richer color, thicker paint and a more engaging surface.  Plus, it's just fun to use.

"Slide Rock Fault" 16x20 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

As I worked, a few tourists began to trickle down to my end of the park.  I'd arrived the minute the park opened, so I was the first one in and had the place all to myself.  (Having this kind of peace is important in the early stages of a large painting.)  Octobers are crowded in Sedona, and Slide Rock gets very busy by mid-morning.  Over the course of my painting, I had perhaps a dozen people walk by to see what I was up to, even though I'd set up on what I thought was a rather inaccessible rock ledge.  By the time I left the park, which was around noon, the park was full, and cars were circling, waiting for someone to vacate a parking spot.

Tuesday was our traditional "Paint Jerome Day."  The festival organizers, along with the Jerome Chamber of Commerce, set up a big tent and feed the working artists bagels, donuts and coffee.  Plus, artists are invited to a free lunch in town.  We artists always look forward to this one.  Well, the day started with a magnificent thunderstorm around 3:30 in the morning, and it rumbled on till dawn.  While packing my car at 8, the rain was still coming down in drips and drabs.  By the time I got up to Jerome, it was still spitting rain.  I saw no tent.  Fortunately, one of the festival folks spotted me and directed me to our new, indoor location.  While enjoying a donut, I spoke with one of the volunteers.  Donna happened to own Gallery 527 down the street, and offered me the gallery's covered upper balcony for a painting spot.  With rain imminent, I jumped at the opportunity and painted a little blue house down the street.  The sun came out about halfway through the painting, but I stuck with my original concept.

"Blue House" 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson
I still had some time left in Jerome, so I drove down to a pull-off near the Jerome State Park with a nice view.  I worked out of the back of the car with a few raindrops starting to come down.  It wasn't long before I heard thunder.  The sky looked particularly dark to the west, so I worked quickly.  By the time I packed this up and started down the hill, the rain fell in earnest.  From Jerome's high elevation, I could see bright jags of lightning across the valley.  Streets were swimming in water by the time I got down to Cottonwood.  I wonder how the other painters fared?

"Hilltop House" 9x12 oil by Michael Chesley Johnson

For the rest of the week's events, please see www.SedonaPleinAirFestival.org

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