I, by my last count, have participated in 14 quick paint competitions. The latest was at the Dockside Competition at the Door County Plein Air Festival. For those of you that read what I write regularly, I think I described one painting session in Fish Creek where I stood up and fell into my easel the painting flying onto the ground. (Vertigo) I know, if I was able to handle that with some dignity maybe nothing should bother me.
I have gone from my original medium of watercolor to acrylic, and now oil. Whenever I go to Trattoria Dal Santo’s, a great restaurant in Sturgeon Bay where almost all the paintings are my watercolors, I wonder why I left this wonderful medium. This past weekend I know why I made the transition – it works.
I hope you enjoy this insight into the trials and tribulations of plein air painting.
Randy C. Rasmussen (RCR): Are you really a nervous plein air painter and if so, why?
Randy Rasmussen (RR): Plein air paintings are something that must be done rapidly and precisely. If you add a time element like the Door County event where one must finish the work in two hours, there is a bit of stress. It seems as though you must plan ahead. I painted on a dock this year in Sister Bay with few people coming by. It is easy for me to become distracted talking to people wasting precious time.
RCR: Seemingly you enjoy it?
RR: Yes, I really do. A few years ago I won the Quick Paint at the Plymouth Plein Air Festival painting in acrylics. In late fall we started painting with a temperature of 39 degrees with wind blowing hard. Of course I spilled my water and forgot my warm red. I dipped my brushes into my bottled water I had brought for drinking and used an almost blue crimson. First prize.
RCR: Why do people, artists actually, enjoy painting outside?
RR: We as artists enjoy painting outside to see the reality of the colors, the wind, the sun, the shadows. I could go on and on but basically I think painting outside allows the artist to use all of the senses. A flat photograph sitting in a studio leads, in my opinion, to a flat, dull painting.
RCR: Can you actually do a completed painting in two hours?
RR: The painting I did and sold this year shows what can be done in two hours. The illustration, while a good photograph, can’t show the energy of the piece. After it was framed I enjoyed looking at it before I turned it in because it allowed me to feel what I felt as I painted.
RCR: Did you talk to anyone as you painted?
RR: Rick Brawner, my friend and fellow painter, came as I worked and sat down and wanted me to throw away my small brush. I talked a bit to Lauretta Kelley, who was painting about 30 feet away and I talked to both of the owners of the boats. Basically it was me and the canvas.
RCR: For those who don’t know, how does this event work and who is it open to?
RR: 10 years ago when I had just started painting I sold my first work at this event. A watercolor painted on canvas. On Saturday you bring your canvas and have it stamped. You go out to your selected spot and at 9 am they blow a horn. You have two hours to finish the painting and the horn blows and you check in. You take it to the Peninsula School of Art (PSA) and it hangs in the tent as one enters the grounds. All the paintings are for sale and if you are fortunate, the work sells. The event was originally held in Fish Creek.
RCR: Are you going to continue to paint in oil?
RR: Oil works well for any type of plein air event but especially quick paints. I can’t imagine how, in the early days of my career, I ended up framing a watercolor under glass and getting it over to the PSA. Years ago I thought I did a really outstanding watercolor of the Summertime with a silver Subaru in front. The man that owned the car told me he would buy the painting and his wife loved it and I thought “Wow, a nice sale.” Because of the crowds my car was parked about 5 blocks away from the painting site. Rain, not just rain, but a heavy downpour hit and I couldn’t get the painting covered. It washed most of it away. I tried to fix it and then the real mistake was to frame it. It didn’t look like a Subaru, maybe not even like a car. That is when I started thinking about oil.
RCR: Thank you