In which the artist pauses for a moment to savor the fevered preparation it has taken be ready to paint and paint well.
For the past several weeks have been filled with preparation for competition in the Sedona Plein Air Festival. Plein air competitions are an amazing thing. When the competition begins there is nothing but potential. When it ends there is an amazing exhibition of fresh, wet plein air paintings, and a thousand intense experiences that have turned into memories. At the rate we are going, us plein air painters will fill every art museum in America with plein air paintings within a few more years. But, of course, the paintings are sold at that big fat happy exhibition, and there are prizes awarded. I really can’t say enough about this wonderful experience. Read my account of the 2009 Plein Air Easton to get a sense of it. The preparation, the shipping of frames and canvases, the hauling about of gear. I get exhausted thinking about it. No, wait, I AM exhausted by getting ready for Sedona Plein Air.
Aside from just trying to get fit and ready (plein air biking), there is so much to do. Today I crossed a big to do off of my list when I hauled three large boxes to the UPS and shipped them to the Sedona Arts Center, the sponsor of the festival. The kind and hard-working people there will hold my boxes until I arrive in about 10 days from now. Shipped was a box of canvases nested in a large wet canvas carrier, a large box of frames that are all wired up and ready to receive the masterpieces, and another box containing 6 finished little paintings that will be hung in the “Artist Showcase” (You can see a few of them here in this post.). Now there is nothing left to do but pack and do some more practice painting and maybe even take a nap and get rested up.
But the past several weeks have been a whirlwind of effort in several directions at once. One big benefit of competing is that, if you care at all, you will work on yourself. You will look at your skills, your weaknesses, your strengths, in short, you will take an inventory of your assets and liabilities. This is the time to work on the failings of the past. And, I am not limiting my failings to bad paintings. My period of training is a cold, hard, even brutal look at myself. Oh it ain’t a pretty sight and, if I want to paint well, I must clean up my act, curb any bad habits, on and off of the canvas, eat right, exercise, pray, and push push push onward reaching for excellence. So a plein air competition can be used to make ones self a better and stronger person.
But, in the end, it’s all about painting well and, most importantly, enjoying the experience to the fullest. Many other artists do this easily and I do so admire them and aspire to be one of those who have mastered the brush and the experience of plein air painting.
Sedona Plein Air is certainly full of masters. More than thirty excellent artists will compete, some of them my friends, I am happy to say. Though I have had moments of mastery, little intimations that serve to keep me going, little crumbs of enlightenment shed sparingly on me now and then, still I am in no way a master of anything, but only an ardent, passionate student. I see the landscape and it is good. Why I have this drive to put its essence down on canvas I do not know, but there it is, a drive that sometimes drives me mad. Yet sometimes it lavishes upon me a joy I rarely feel elsewhere, and in those moments of rare joy, there is a keen sense that it isn’t me that is painting…it isn’t me.