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Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Plein Air Convention and Expo 2022 – Part 2

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Albert Handell on the Main Stage

Despite my quiet hotel room, I woke early on Thursday—3:30—which is not terribly unusual for me.  I made coffee with the one-cup coffee maker I'd brought with me (far better than the stuff the resort supplied) and continued reading a biography of Robert the Bruce, one of my ancestors.  I think it's good to temper all the art input from the convention with something completely unrelated to avoid burnout.

Morning on the Golf Course


Once dawn arrived, I went out for a walk, hoping to find something other than pavement.  Fortunately, the resort has an 18-hole golf course, and despite the signs saying “No Trespassing—Golfers Only,” I walked a couple of miles, climbing to a rocky hill top where I had views of the waning moon sinking down above the Jemez Mountains.  It was good to work off some energy, as I've always been a bit restless sitting in hotel ballrooms at conferences.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts

Haidee Jo Summers

My first meeting was a presentation on the main stage by Thomas Jefferson Kitts.  His topic was on solvent-free oil painting.  Although I know most of the tech behind the practice, I learned that the safflower and flax ( linseed) oils one finds in the supermarket contain vitamin D.  Because vitamin D is an anti-oxidant, it will keep these drying oils from oxidizing and curing, so it's best to use artist's grade oils, which are free of it.  Following this, there was a talk by noted art historian Jean Stern on the historic women of plein air painting. I then took some time to peruse the wares in the vendor room and ran into Anita Louise West, who remembered me from times past.  It was good to reconnect with her, and hopefully, we'll get together to paint either in my neck of the woods or hers.

I returned to my room for an early lunch, and then attended a demo by Haidee Jo Summers.  Her topic, “Capturing the Essence,” explored the idea of simplifying a scene and cutting it down to one's basic idea.  Lori McNee then gave a presentation on Cobra water-miscible oils and Multimedia Artboard.  The Cobra rep was on hand to clarify some of the technical details, and since I've been very tentative in my use of the Cobra product, I gained some confidence.  Finally, it was off to see Dawn Whitelaw's talk on finishing paintings.  She took some of hers and showed us the steps she takes in evaluating them and adding the final brush strokes.

On the Plaza

By late afternoon, it was time to drive off to the Santa Fe's historic Plaza, which was our outing for the day.  I didn't pay for a bus ticket—since I had my own car, I just drove to a spot near the Plaza where I was sure I could get parking—and saddled up my gear and headed over.  I was a good 30 minutes in advance of the bus, so I was surprised to see the Plaza already teeming with painters.  The wind was starting to gust, but most of the Plaza seemed to be sheltered by the buildings that line the square.  And even better, the cottonwood trees gave plenty of shade, something much desired when painting in New Mexico.

At the paintout, I had a choice: paint or advise.  Early on in the year, when faculty was being invited, we'd been sorted into two bins, demonstrators and field painters.  I'd been assigned to the demonstrators, but this group was also given the option of functioning as field painters.  Field painters were supposed to wander around the attendees and offer sage advice.  I decided I'd do both.  So, first I set up my pastel box and did a quick sketch of a street scene; then, because the sketch might blow away in the wind, I packed everything up, donned my fluorescent, lime-green “Faculty” cap and began dispensing encouraging words and helpful suggestions.

An Encounter with PleinAir Magazine editor
Kelly Kane (left) and PleinAir Today editor
Cheri Haas (right)


Offerings were more limited on Friday, as the convention was winding down, with the big finish to be on Saturday with an all-day paintout at Ghost Ranch.  (Ghost Ranch, of course, was made famous by Georgia O'Keeffe, and now it's a retreat facility.)  Friday had the usual simultaneous events in the morning, but for the afternoon, everything took place on the main stage.

Tony Allain

First, in the morning, I attended Tony Allain's pastel demonstration.  I'd not met Tony in person before, but he's one of the master artists in my book.  It was a pleasure to finally meet this artist from Scotland and to see how quick he is to lay down the pastel.  He joked that he is so aggressive with the medium that the first two rows of the audience would probably be covered in pastel juice by the end.  Next, Albert Handell demonstrated painting a waterfall in oil on the main stage.  Although I've seen many different variations of his demos over the years, every time it's a treat to see him do it again.

Next, Eric took the stage to reveal the venue for next year's convention: Denver, with painting trips to Estes Park and City of the Gods.  There was a lot of excitement over the announcement, especially when Eric noted that it would be the convention's tenth birthday bash with a record number of attendees and faculty.  (He's planning on 1000 participants and 80 faculty.)

The final demonstration for the convention was Kevin Macpherson, but unfortunately, the schedule was running an hour late and seemed to be slipping even later.  I'd planned to go home after watching his demo and then stopping just briefly at the afternoon paintout at El Rancho de las Golondrinas; I needed to hurry home to pack for another trip--to get to my father's memorial service.  

Even so, Friday was a satisfying end to the convention for me.  I enjoyed seeing some old friends, learning a few new things, and absorbing the wonderful energy that his kind of event creates.  Will I be at Denver in 2023?  I hope so!

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