“Just try going outside and painting things on the spot! All sorts of things happen then. I had to pick off a good hundred or more flies from [my] canvases … not to mention dust and sand [nor] the fact that if one carries them through heath and hedgerows for a couple of hours, a branch or two is likely to scratch them … and that the effects one wants to capture change as the day wears on.”
(Vincent van Gogh in a Letter to Theo van Gogh, July 1885)
It was last summer, that with great amazement I was able to participate in Montague’s Plein Air Art Festival. No, I didn’t paint. Too scared for that. But I greeted artists, stamped dates on canvasses, and hung their master pieces in the gallery at the end of the day. And what a great five days it was!
It was wonderful to watch the evolution of many of the first timers, as they got their feet wet. (One day, literally) As each brought their day’s work into the gallery to be hung, it was intriguing to see how they interpreted the same exact scene … in the end, painting it so very differently. Whether it was the pretty boats in Montague Harbour, the Panmure Island Lighthouse with its popular golden horses, or the historical buildings at Orwell Corner, all paintings were personal and possessed a wonderfully unique feeling.
Two things I love about Plein Air art … First, that the painting is a moment in time. It is not laboured over for weeks. It is painted in a couple of hours and then it exists … with all its doubt and glory. Also, none looked like photographs. There were as many interpretations of one beautiful spot, as there were painters. Some paintings come in looking shiny and sunny and happy, while the next produces a shadowy, more pensive feel. The paintings are as diverse as the personalities of the painters. The styles, all different. And after a few days, I had fun attempting to guess the painter of each, before looking at the signature on the back.
I look forward to this year’s festival, once again … but with even greater anticipation. For this year we open Satori Artist Retreat to Plein Air painters from away. Our cabin is cozy and our attached studio will give them space to finish up some of their day’s work. And perhaps create another piece from a quiet Plein Air spot, that was solely of their own finding.
Perhaps that will be the one taken home, a souvenir from the “gentle island” and five days well spent with kindred spirits.
And like van Gogh said, if a little PEI sand gets in there, or a bit of red dirt, so be it … it only makes the painting even more Plein Air.
- Winter Park Art Festival