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Friday, May 20, 2022

The Plein Air Convention and Expo 2022 – Part 1

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PACE Opens!  How many people can you count?
There's a whole left side that's not in the photo.


After being cancelled two years in a row because of the pandemic, the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) finally opened in Santa Fe—but with wildfires raging on both sides of it.  Thirty miles east, New Mexico's second largest fire in history had charred over 300,000 acres by opening day.  And thirty miles west, a smaller fire of 50,000 acres was breathing its last.  The convention organizers recommended N95 masks for anyone worried about smoke.

The N95 masks, of course, would also be helpful because the pandemic still hadn't quite gone away.  I'd been uneasy about attending a convention with hundreds of people—partly because, right after it, I was due to travel several more days and visit with elderly family members on my long journey to Campobello Island.  But fortified with my second booster, and vowing to wear my N95 when indoors and to avoid parties, my hope was that I would escape unscathed.  (I won't mention that I snuck a small microwave oven into my room so I wouldn't have to dine out.)

As I approached the Buffalo Thunder Casino and Resort, about 20 minutes north of Santa Fe and on the Pueblo of Pojoaque reservation, I could see the smoke from the Calf Creek/Hermit's Peak fire billowing over the mountains.  The cloud, not quite a mushroom cloud, tilted to the east as the prevailing winds blew it away from Pojoaque.  The forecast for the rest of the week was sunny and unseasonably warm—in the high 80s—and with gusty winds expected later.

Dawn comes to Pojoaque


I discovered that the hotel was, thank goodness, isolated from the convention area and the casino.  As a light sleeper, it's important to have quiet.  Once checked in, I was surprised at how empty the place seemed.  Despite hundreds of people attending, the halls were largely void of traffic save for the occasional attendee frowning at the hotel map on his phone, trying to find the location of his room.  (Complicating things is the fact that there are two wings, and if you go up the wrong set of elevators, you may not find your room.  This happened to me while pushing a hundred pounds of gear on a bellman cart.)

I wasn't even sure if the casino was operating, as its parking lot, which is separate from the hotel's, was empty. The only place I encountered crowds was in the vendor area—a very dense gathering—and in the main stage area.  I found the best time to visit the vendors was during a presentation, when attendees were in the main stage room.  In the main stage area itself, I was able to hover in the back where things were more open.  (From anywhere in the room you could get a good view, thanks to the two large projection screens, which provided a close-up if not color-corrected view of the easel.)  Even so, I kept my N95 firmly attached.

After checking in, I immediately went to the main stage for the opening reception.  Eric Rhoads, the publisher of PleinAir magazine and organizer of PACE, appeared wearing a game-show host wig and a coat glittering with green sequins.  “Plein Air Wars” opened the evening, with four painters on stage performing under extreme conditions.  (Imagine being told to paint only with your non-dominant hand.)  Following that...more games, but finally it got down to Lifetime Achievement awards and the introduction of faculty.  I was pleased to see that my friend, Joe Anna Arnett, finally was able to take in hand her Lifetime Achievement award, which she was able to receive only virtually in 2021.

Brenda Boylan


The next day, my first event for the convention was a pastel demonstration by Brenda Boylan.  (There was a 6:30 am “Marketing Boot Camp” session I chose to skip, feeling a need to take my morning constitutional instead; I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise.)  Brenda showed us how to paint a city scene and discussed how to handle the issues one might encounter in that busy environment.  Next, I headed back to the main stage, where Eric was doing a live, streamed interview with master painter David Leffel and Sherrie McGraw.  Leffel is a Grand Master of painting, and he talked about some of the higher-level aspects of the art.  After that, I headed over to watch a watercolor demo on painting ocean waves by another friend and fellow Plein Air Fundy member, Poppy Balser.  I found it amazing that she was able to “save” the white areas for sea foam while painting a wave so loosely. She used no opaque white.  

Poppy Balser

Albert Handell


I ended the daylight portion of the day by watching a pastel demonstration of a tree by another good friend, Albert Handell, who has a fascinating approach in which he treats the tree more as a figure to be painted, and a talk on the optical physics of sunsets by Carl Bretzke.  This is a highly complex subject, and this MD-turned-painter did a great job of giving a clear presentation.  Somewhere in the course of the day, I ran into another friend, Kevin Macpherson—I am finding I have so many in the plein air world—and Eric, each of whom I showed my appreciation to by giving a copy of my new book.

Although the afternoon outing was scheduled for the historic village of Chimayo and its iconic Santuario, I needed to skip it.  I had a pastel presentation I was due to give at 8 p.m. and wanted to use the time to set up my gear, re-read my notes and make sure I had everything ready to go.  I also had been up since 3 a.m. and thought I might try to take a nap.  I'm not a napper, so this was a challenge.

Somewhat rested and fortified by a cup of strong Earl Grey tea, I made it through my presentation. At first, I was a little worried when the clock struck eight and every chair was still empty.  But PleinAir magazine editor Kelly Kane, someone I as a writer have known for years but had never actually met, and who was going to introduce me, said the bus from Chimayo was running late. (PACE hired one to ferry painters from the convention to painting sites.) Sure enough, people soon began filing in.  I had a good crowd, and I enjoyed sharing my topic: Outdoor Study to Studio.  I demonstrated how I use field references—color studies, pencil sketches and photos—for making studio paintings.  It's a hard sell to dedicated plein air painters, but I think they got the point, which is that the studio is not something to avoid.

(Coming Up—Part 2)

1 comment:

Nancy L. Vance said...

Thanks for writing about the convention and I'm looking forward to hearing more! I'm not one to enjoy those big crowds and loved hearing about it from your point of view!