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    June 2007
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Feature: Hints & Tips
Tips for Plein-air Painting
by Sue Martin

If you’re thinking of escaping the stale air of your studio and trying your hand at painting en plein air (in the open air), here are some tips from three experts – all members of the Plein Air Painters of Utah – who share some lessons they've learned the hard way. John Hughes,|0| Steve McGinty, |1| and Susan Gallacher |2| were kind enough to respond to a brief list of questions.

Q: What piece(s) of equipment do you consider most essential for working outdoors?

Steve: The proper easel is most important; otherwise it's very difficult to paint outdoors. There are many brands and kinds of plein air easels on the market. They're compact and simple. Prices range from $50 - $500.

Susan: My old wooden French Easel. I have been using it outside for about 30 years and still love it.

John: A checklist of supplies to bring out into the field. Without that, I will usually forget something of greater or lesser importance and wind up behind the eight ball in one way or another.

Q: How do you transport wet canvases?

Steve: You can purchase some board or canvas carriers, small suitcase-like boxes of wood that usually have divided slots. You can also make them.

Susan: My wet canvases I carry in an old wooden carrier I had built many years ago. It has slots that several panels slide into without touching each other. The only problem is it is heavy. So when I fly to paint in other areas I use a plastic Raymar canvas holder that also has slots like my wooden one.

I transport wet canvases in the lid of my paint box or a slot box made for that purpose.

Q: How do you keep bugs from sticking to your work?

Steve: You don't. When they stick you pluck them out. You can do it when your painting is wet or dry. I prefer wet.

Susan: Bugs do stick to my work and I just leave them alone. When the painting is dry I scrape off large bugs with a palette knife. But, if they are small I just leave them. So what? Then one knows the painting is plein-air. It just adds to the painting’s character.

John: I don't keep bugs from sticking to the work. I just call them eagles if they land in the sky or one of the trees!

Q: Do you use different paints, mounts, or other equipment in the field than you use in your studio?

Steve: I use the same paint and equipment; just the easel is different.

Susan: In the field, I use a more limited palette of colors than in my studio. Not so much to carry. I also paint on hardboard panels so the sun doesn't shine through my painting surface as it does with stretched canvas.

John: Portability is the key here; the further I paint from the car the more portable the gear, also the less paint needed. One set of primaries plus white will do the job. In the studio you don't have those restrictions.

Q: What's the maximum size painting you will do in the field?

Steve: 14x18; I have done 18x24 but it's not near as enjoyable. Usually I stick between 8x10 and 12x16.

Susan: The largest field painting I normally do is 18 x 24. I have done larger but with the problem of wind catching the canvas and flying away and the sun shining through the canvas (panels are too heavy if they are larger than 14 x 18 to me). There’s also the problem of time. The sun is changing the shadows as it moves, so you have to paint fast. Large canvases take too long. I usually paint in sizes from 8 x 10 to 12 x 16.

John: Generally no larger than 20x24 or 12x24, but most of the time I paint small – in sizes ranging from 8x10 to 11x14.

Q: How do you limit the weight of your equipment?

Steve: You just limit the equipment.

Susan: I limit the weight of my equipment by taking less (stuff).

John: Primaries, smaller tubes of white, 3 brushes, and a water filter rather than toting a lot of water up a mountainside.

Q: If you travel by air with your plein air supplies/equipment, how do you comply with travel security regulations? What items do you avoid carrying but buy at the destination instead?

Steve: I travel with [supplies/equipment] in my luggage and the liquids I try to get where I'm going. [Avoid carrying] paint thinner or brush cleaner. Although a good old bar of soap and water can suffice for some. They also have brush cleaner that is paste in form. [Painting] mediums can also be a problem, bought in some places of travel.

Susan: When I fly, I just buy some supplies [like turpentine] when I get there. I pack some things in my suitcase.

John: Best to call ahead and talk with security at the airport you are flying out of. Buy thinner at your destination and clean out your thinner pot so there are NO fumes present. [Pack] no palette knives in your carry on luggage.

Q: What lesson did you learn "the hard way" that you'd like to share with others?

Steve: A friend I traveled with found out that some palette knives are impossible to get through security when carrying them on. [Also,] the gorillas handling the luggage can break boxes in luggage. I pad around mine.

Susan: I learned to travel with less. When you carry heavy equipment vary far, you are too exhausted to stand and paint. I also learned to be as physically comfortable as possible so I can concentrate on painting. I take drinking water, [and] in the summer I stand in the shade if at all possible, and, most of all, enjoy my painting experience.

John: Keep an eye on your personal items going through the scanner. Don't take your eyes off them even if you are pulled off to the side for further screening; they may disappear!

Q: What do you wish someone had told you before you began painting plein air?

Steve: How fantastic it is. I would have started earlier. I started 21 years ago.

Susan: I wish someone had told me that when painting plein air everything is not green. When I was 15, I took my first plein air painting class. The instructor always took us up the canyons to paint pine trees. All my paintings were acid unreal green-green.

John: That failure is not failure if you learn from your mistakes.||
Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Eric Waterkotte and Chine Collé: An Introduction
by Geoff Wichert

After a hundred and fifty years of unparalleled innovation, the most far-reaching development in art hasn't turned out to be the splatter elbowing aside the brush, or performance taking the place of the object, or even abstraction replacing representation. Since 1912, when Picasso glued a picture of chair caning onto a Cubist canvas, collage has turned out to be not just a versatile technique, but in its capacity to break down the line between art and reality, the central metaphorical device of our age.

Even as the line between naturally occurring and fabricated reality dissolved, the hard and specific techniques of collage expanded their influence on the plastic arts. Not content with gluing manufactured images into works begun or completed by hand, painters went on to adhere every imaginable natural and man-made material to their canvases. In sculpture, collage initially took the form of welding together metal parts, but eventually led to the legitimating of every kind of assemblage. Newer mediums like installation and video are hard to imagine without collage.

But one of the purest forms of collage is the printmaker's technique known as chine collé, a remarkably versatile—indeed, essentially limitless—technique involving an array of paper overlays, each individually printed, then arranged and laminated together to create effects of mood, atmosphere, space distance, overlap, subordination of color or line elements, or any other effect an artist can find and utilize.

Chine collé was the topic of a week-long workshop given the third week in May, hosted by SaltGrass Printers in Sugarhouse and featuring Minnesota print maker Eric Watercotte (pronounced watercutty). Traditionally, the primary virtue of chine collé is its capacity to combine two papers with very different character into a single image. Due to its flexibility and lack of visible grain structure, very thin paper can accept a very fine image, with exquisite detail and subtle color gradations that would be lost on a coarser material. Collaging this image onto heavier paper can then add support, texture, pattern, or shading: other qualities not present in the printed layer. Examples can be seen in the work of veteran Utah artist and educator Adrian van Suchtelen, whose studies from nature combine the delicacy of the original with the durable visual presence encountered in Northern Renaissance realism. For Eric Watercotte, however, chine collé provides the freedom to combine a conventional matrix—a wood, metal, or plastic plate that allows him to transfer his drawings as prearranged patterns of ink onto paper—with extemporary, even spontaneous elements he derives from his environment. Using a variety of approaches, from tracing to found objects and the magic of Max Ernst's frottage technique, he builds up an ambiguous space in which mysterious objects are surrounded by a nimbus of diagrammatic elements that strive to analyze or explain them, contain them, or perhaps call them into another level or being. Often they suggest architecture, or landscapes, or one as the other. By controlling the transparency of layers and allowing a certain amount of "noise" to accumulate, he gives these images simultaneous, contrasting qualities: on the one hand, self-consciousness of their origin in graphic processes; on the other, a feeling of animation in real space. It's a mix with a strong affinity for sophisticated twenty-first century eyes.

By the time this is published, Eric Waterkotte's workshop will have ended, but he will follow the class with a two-week residency as print maker at SaltGrass, during and after which his work will be on display, in both the gallery and workspace. SaltGrass also has a regular series of classes and special events, information on which can be found at the collective’s website.

Erik Waterkotte teaches a class at Saltgrass Printmakers
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Plein air Opportunities

If you think the tips in Sue Martin's article (see left column) are just the thing to improve your technique and you're looking to get your paint box out, here are some opportunities this month:

::ISA Paint-Out
The Intermountain Society of Artists meeting Tuesday, June 12, at Wheeler Farm will be a "Paint-Out" followed by dinner and an opportunity to exchange surplus art supplies and equipment. The paint-out will end at 6:30 PM for a social hour, dinner, and the artists' exchange. Meetings are held at Wheeler Historic Farm , 6351 South 900 East in Murray on the second Tuesday of each month.

Cache Valley's Summerfest, June 13-16, occurs on Tabernacle Square in downtown Logan. The festival includes a plein-air competition juried by Glen Edwards, with over $4000 in cash and prizes.

::Ogden Arts Festival
The rural countryside of the Cache Valley (above) contrasts with the urban setting of the Ogden Arts Festival's Plein Air competition, June 28 and 29. Participants have two days to finish up to two paintings in the downtown area of Ogden. $3,000 in total cash prizes and purchase awards.

:: Midway Arts Association
The Midway Arts Association's Wasatch Plein Air Paradise 2007 is the group's signature event that coincides with the town's 4th of July celebrations. The event includes 4 painting competitions over a seven day period with a total of over $9000 in prize money.
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