On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by Outdoor Painters of Minnesota. It was led by Bob Upton, a local plein air painter. We met at Hidden Falls regional park in St. Paul, which has a lovely view of the Mississippi River, and one in which Bob took advantage of, as that is what he painted. As we settled into our camp chairs under a blissfully shady tree, Bob took us on an artistic journey, talking about his background, his materials, and style of working with an acrylic underpainting before adding oils. His French easel and umbrella was stationed on the rim of the river, several feet up above a sandbar. We could watch boats and jet skis, as well as people across the river at a dog park while he was painting. I got out my sketchbook and after awhile, began to sketch him and other workshop participants.
Now, I have done many on-location plein air (French for “in the open air”) oils. They are an animal unto themselves, as you have to haul quite a bit of equipment along, set up an easel, and try to paint in the sun, heat, snow, rain, or wherever you find yourself. It can be very challenging, but also very rewarding. Urban sketching in a sketchbook is nice, since you can keep everything in a small bag, haul less equipment, and just tuck it away when you get done with your sketch. I love sketching, and have done it exclusively for several years, but for some reason, I got the itch to paint oils again, so I’ve had to brush the dust off my easel, find my crusty oil paints, refresh my memory with how to set up, and gotten the courage to load it all up in my car and find something to paint.
I loved the sounds on the river. People in boats, dogs barking, planes flying overhead, boat motors churning up the river. Several passers-by came and looked at what Bob was doing, including some firemen from the St. Paul fire department. They had a boat on the river that could shoot water out a nozzle, which was pretty cool. But they were interested enough in the painting demo to stop over and observe for a few minutes. After Bob’s workshop ended, we dispersed and went to paint our own masterpiece. I went down the river a little near the boat launch, and set up my easel. I had a nice view of the river, a tree on the bank, and a bunch of rocks on the beach. I used an 8×10 canvas that I had primed with an acrylic underpainting the night before. I like to have bright colors peep through the oil, it gives it more energy and pizazz.
Once I got going, I blocked in the tree and outline of the shoreline and rocks. Then I mixed several colors of grays, browns, greens, and blues to begin painting the landscape. As I worked, a firetruck arrived, several men got out, and walked below me on the beach, talking to the public. I also watch boats and lunch-eaters on the beach. It was starting to get hot, but I finished in an hour with a fun painting to take home and remember my day at the park.
It was a lovely way to spend a day outside, and I enjoyed it. And Bob will always be in my memory as I share my sketch of his demo. It was a fun time and not the only time I have painted the painter!