Thoughts on Plein Air Events and re-cap of LGPA.

About a month ago, I headed down to sunny California to participate in The Los Gatos Plein Air and am finally journaling about my experience of the event. WARNING...this is a LOOONG post!

While I am also wishing to share with you a bit about the process of participation, I will be using the Los Gatos Plein Air as my model and what to expect, and perhaps offer up a few pointers for those who are curious on how they work. Los Gatos Plein Air is still my personal favorite plein air event. I say this because it is so much of a reunion of friends, family, and collectors who come out to say "Hi" as well as the familiar landscape from my childhood that evokes a sense of belonging. I have painted for dozens of plein air events over the past 7-8 years that have given me many great experiences, and exposure from which to write a novel, but this one I return to year after year. It is run by the incredible Los Gatos Morning Rotary Club.

Each event has it's own personality unique to the area and culture of the region. First of all, there are the simply organized, non-juried, fun community events that are run on a shoestring budget by a small grass-roots volunteer group. These events offer up a loose and relaxed pace, with the opportunity to paint alongside all levels of artists.  I would consider them the hidden gems of plein air. These community events often offer the opportunity to hang the work in a park, a group center or even perhaps in an old stable for a weekend. It's that simple.

The juried shows offer a varying level of participation. From my experience, the level of artist is equal to the level of sales and award purses, if available. For example, if an event that has beautiful scenery to paint from, but low sales and awards, the event could potentially die out or attract less experienced participants. These events are still worth it simply for the joy of painting as I often consider this level of event to be sort of a painting getaway with like minded artists. Potentially, the artist's expenses may not likely to be covered with no, or low sales, which is why I'd nearly consider it a painting getaway. An artist has to weigh in the expenses of gas, car rental, food, housing, and perhaps the shipment of gear, commissions and the cost of a flight can make participation a gamble if there are low sales. This has happened to me and it's a ego crusher I tell ya. Unless you have sales, well then, I'd say it's definitely a great event much like Los Gatos Plein Air.

Then there is the level of plein air events where some 150+ eager volunteers are all serving for a higher cause, offering large prize purses along with high volume of sales that attract the attention of a higher end competitive artist, which in turn attracts the higher end collector. It is a win-win situation, making for more competitive entries than there are spots available.

Finally, there is the level of plein air event where the artist is "invited" to participate. There is no jurying process, there is no application fee, there is simply a "yes" or "no" approval by the artist. My guess is the event organizers search these artists either by plein air participation, publicity and marketing, national exposure or gallery representation. I'd consider an invitation to be a huge honor and privilege because the artists are sought after professionals and the event is marketing to their distinguished collector base. Usually these events are much like the level described above with all the support along with the artist recognition.

So back to Los Gatos....   I flew into San Jose, CA. a few days ahead of the event to allow myself time to acclimate and scout out my areas from which to paint. This often saves on painting time and frustration of where to park, paint and pee. Yes, the 3P's are a must in this industry, but I digress...  Juried events usually start off with a canvas stamping on the back of your panels. Some events don't even care to stamp a canvas, while other events use the dated stamping process to prove that the piece was actually painted during that particular event. It also serves as proof that you are a juried artist in the event. Los Gatos provides host families for those artists who have come from a great distance. This is such a welcomed relief on many levels because it reduces costs for the artist, as well as offers up an opportunity to know a resident and learn a bit about the area. All of my past hosts have been wonderfully supportive and exceptionally helpful and generous with their homes.

Day 1 
(2 paintings)

Los Gatos stamps all the artists canvasses from 8:00 am till 12:00 noon at the Los Gatos Art Museum. After a brief hello to the organizers and getting any last minute information and goodie bag, all the artists are unleashed to create their works for the next 4 days. I hooked up with Portlanders Kat Sowa, Anton Pavlenko, Yer Za Vue, and Yong Hongzhong to paint for the day. We started out in the southeast bay area, where Calero Resevoir and farmland scenes are abundant. We painted by a pioneer barn, the Coleman Barn, but mine turned out to be a dud! I mean it was a stinker, which sometimes happens right out of the gate.

The Coleman Pioneer Barn

I figure 3 out of 10 paintings will make the cut, so I recommend stamping more panels than frames available. Pictured below is the second stop of the day, located above the Santa Clara valley, hidden under some California Oaks that offered protective shade.

Here is my painting spot with the view of the Santa Clara Valley, looking eastwardly.

The finished piece, sorry for the bad photo.  
"View from Red Clay Way" 8x10" Pastel  (Sold)

That evening the LGPA had an Artist Reception and Mandatory Orientation at the Los Gatos Museum. Most events offer an orientation to get up to date guidelines and changes, suggested painting locations, judging, hanging, and everything you would need to know about the event as a participant. Usually this information is provided prior an event through email communication, but it is always a great way to gather and answer any questions before the meat of the event sets in. It also provides a great opportunity to meet the organizers, reconnect with artist friends as well as meet a few benefactors.  After the orientation, artists may chose to go out and enjoy a meal together or head out to paint some more. Either way, the hours of work are exhaustive. Getting up early to paint a sunrise and staying up long after hours to catch a moonrise into a nocturne are when the best light is available. Lack of sleep is the norm, as well as everybody else is running on adrenaline to keep ahead of the clock. I have often suggested there should be a reality show for these events with all it's drama. Now, wouldn't that be interesting?

Day 2
(3 paintings)

One of my pre-scouted locations, I had decided to paint the view of the valley as seen through a vineyard. So, I headed up to Mountain Winery with my friend and artist participant Tonya Zenin. We had the direct sun on us as well as being up higher in the atmosphere which means plenty of sunscreen. I recommend the spray on sunscreen as you won't have to wipe off that greasy film from your hands as well as application is a snap. Tonya and I painted the very same scene, but with completely different interpretations...as well as a few really great laughs about artistic life.

"Mountain Vineyard View" 11x14" Pastel  (Sold)
Honorable Mention

After this painting, Tonya and I went and ate some lunch and then we went back out to do an urban scene in downtown Los Gatos.  

Painting "Vintages" store front.

I have found that painting on the hard cement can injure your back and hips. One simple solution is to purchase a foam fatigue mat at Home Depot and tape the edges all together to make a double mat. It really does help to keep your back and hips from injury. I fashioned a tape "handle" to make it easy to carry to your painting location. I don't have one here in this picture, but I swear by it while painting urban scenes back home.

Partially done "Dressmakers Form" and in the direct hot afternoon sunlight made for a challenging scene. I loved the vintage dress form, but the shadows on it were bouncing all around. I chose to eliminate the shadows altogether, but I was not completely satisfied with my results.

After a quick snack, Tonya and I wanted to catch some late afternoon lighting, and I had wanted to return to a site where I had painted once before. I loved how the afternoon light warmed up the oaks on the distant hill as well as a lot of dramatic shadows and light.

Painting up on Larga Vista Road right off of Blossom Hill.

"Blossom Hill" 14x11" Pastel  (sold)

Day 3
(3 paintings)

Fatigue is setting in, I'm getting into a groove, and I have had some success with my work. Hooray! Today was an urban day for me, and so I set out to one of my favorite spots, Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company. I have painted this scene before and return to it every time with a different interpretation. This time around, I had asked one of the customers if he was planning on sitting for at least 20 minutes, and so he agreed to, but honestly, the caffeine either was doing a great job on me, or he was just wiggly and not a great subject to paint. Regardless, he continued to remain there long after I was done so I was able to gesture him into the painting. I wanted to get the feeling of activity in this piece as this coffee shop is a busy stop for many Los Gatan's.

"Starting the Day" 16x12" Pastel  (sold)

After this piece, I carried my gear over towards the house of John and Sue McSorley, the hosts of the Artist Luncheon. They live in the downtown area, close in and are one of my favorite folks to visit with. Every year, they and the Los Gatos Morning Rotary Club host this event in their yard, providing a fuel stop, rest stop, hydration from the sun's heat and much needed shade. It is a great opportunity to gather with the other artists to compare notes, share painting locations as well as time to mingle.

"Tassles" 10x8" Pastel  (sold)

My next piece was painted mid-day, so I was happy to work a dress shop called Tassles that offered little shadow transitions. However, I was again in direct sunlight and getting hot and sun exposed so I had to take a few breaks to hydrate and apply sunscreen frequently. What I enjoy most about painting urban scenes is the general public seems to be, well, interesting. Many are curious, some could just care less, while there is the occasional walkie talkie. Beware of urban painting if you would much rather have silence. On the other hand, it provides a great way to share your love for art as well as it offers the general public a view into an artists creativity.  I have painted this shop once before and have come to enjoy the shop owner, Coco. She has been a sweet familiar face to see every time I paint the town. 

Late in the day, I returned back to my host's home to begin the process of framing pastels. It is a daunting chore. It also gave me some quiet time to be indoors to cool down from the sun and re-group. While participating in these events, it's always good practice to schedule in some down time. Something I do little of, but when I do, it's possibly the most rewarding. A smart, heathy snack, a nap, and a tall glass of water works wonders. 

That evening a few hosts and their artists had been invited to a bar-be-que by one of the Rotarians. These people know how to entertain! Plenty of conversation, food, and drink was offered. After we had all filled up and visited for some time, a few artists had decided to go paint a nocturne in downtown Los Gatos. 
"Haute Bride" 10x8" Pastel

We set up around 10:00 pm and worked our night magic on the streets. It's interesting to see the change of street activity from dawn to dusk and deep into the night, but Los Gatos is a pretty safe place. While out painting en plein air, always evaluate your surroundings. Safety is a must for a painter who may become engrossed into the painting process, especially when there are pedestrians who are not "always there" or missing a few screws. We were up until 1:30 am painting. Some of my high school friends even came out to watch me paint so there was plenty reason to be out late. I returned back to my hosts house just as they were returning from a wedding, and I hopped into the shower and was in bed by 2:30 am.

Day 4
(framing day)

When the schedule of events is published to the participating artists, I always plan on a day of framing or at least divide it out as I go along. When I do frame throughout the span of the event, I usually plan it during the mid-day while the light is the least attractive. It gives me time to settle down, focus, as well as get the most difficult part of my job done. Framing pastels is not an easy chore and this is why you will see very few pastels in plein air competitions. I have made it easy on myself by pre-assembling the glass, spacers and wiring long before I leave my home. Depending on the distance of the event, I may have to ship my frames and gear at great expense ahead of time, and other times the frames come along with me in my car. For long distance events, I use Optium Acrylic Museum grade glasing because of it's anti-reflection, weight, scratch resistant and anti static qualities. It also has a price three times the average cost of glasing. I love the stuff because I don't have to worry about a broken, chipped piece of glass to replace on location and the weight and handling is not a worry.  I ended up framing 7 pieces plus we were allowed to bring one studio piece from home. I had 8 total for sale and it was looking like a solid body of work. Framing all my work in like-style frames gives the appreciating public the feeling of consistency, or a story line...like it was created by the one artist.

Around 5:00, each artist turned in one favorite piece at the VIP Gala. After that, it was celebration time!

The Friday night VIP Gala had plenty of room to move about and the work was displayed with integrity. One display panel per painting with it's own light to illuminate each work made for nearly 50% of the pieces sold. There was adequate, delicious food and the general flow of the Gala was welcoming and roomy. Everyone had a wonderful time. Less tickets were available for purchase, but at a higher price that perhaps this created room for more serious collector attendance.  Each artist selected their favorite piece out of the 32 pieces submitted for the prestigious "Artist's Choice" award. Sorry I do not have the information on the piece, but it was my favorite one for sure!

Attendees Tonya Zenin (artist), John McSorely, Tina and Clay Goodman.

At the VIP Gala with Portland artists Yong Hongzhong, Kat Sowa, Anton Pavlenko, Yer Za Vue, Me, and then welcomed photobomber Timothy Tien on the far right.

Day 4
Saturday in the Park
(Sale day, judging)

Up bright and early, we had to deliver and hang our body of work in the park. Each artist has to fill in all the paperwork:  Inventory number, title, size, medium, contact info, artist name and price. I like to do this logistical work ahead of time while I am framing because turning in the work is often a chaotic and confusing time, so mistakes can happen. The Saturday sale was smooth and very well attended, and the weather cooperated too!  In years past, we have had torrential rain, baking 105 degree heat, and more baking heat. This year the weather was definitely Californian!

My piece "Mountain Vineyard View" (above) gained Judge Paul Kratter's attention, awarding it an Honorable Mention as well as my friend Tonya's Vineyard piece too!  

Happy with Paul's decision! It's never ever an expected outcome,
but sometimes ya just gotta take the punches with the petals. 

In Summary

What I most love about painting in this event is the generosity of the Los Gatos Morning Rotary Club members. I also must give credit to the community that supports the event, the scenery, the returning collectors and friends who drop by while I am there and of course, the weather. So many great memories are made while painting for plein air events, weather they are non-juried community gatherings or high end juried competitions. Most importantly, I thank you for your endurance reading this far and I'm hoping that you enjoyed my report and small offerings of advice on participating in plein air. Next week I'm off to paint in Door County Plein Air, for an invitational plein air event. I have never been there, but I expect it will be another great adventure!

It's been quite the journey.

~ Brenda

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article and helpful to others. One subject you didn't touch on is 'price points' and marketing. How do you price your work? Does it change according to the event or do you have a formula?

7/17/14, 4:12 AM  
Blogger Sergio Lopez said...

I love the idea of a plein air reality show! Or at least a documentary... can you imagine seeing yourself on Netflix??

7/17/14, 11:10 AM  
Blogger Brenda Boylan said...

Hi Anonymous, I keep my prices consistent across the US. My thought behind this is my past collectors would appreciate that I not "cheapen the deal" while they paid full price. I always weigh the demographics of each event by researching the areas as well as what past participants have experienced. Hope this helps!

7/17/14, 1:54 PM  
Blogger Brenda Boylan said...

Hey Sergio,
Oh the drama we create while stirring it up in the field! I have seen a little bit of it every time and would really be interesting to share it from the inside. Kind of like a Hell's Kitchen deal.

7/17/14, 2:02 PM  
Blogger Carolyn Jean Thompson said...

Thank you so much, Brenda, for taking the time to journal this event. My friend and I are thinking of applying for it for next year, since we did the Markleeville one for several years and North Tahoe one coming up this September, and we feel we are ready to apply to Los Gatos. Your blog really gives us an idea of what to expect and what to prepare for! Thanks soooo much!

7/20/14, 7:43 PM  
Blogger Brenda Boylan said...

Carolynm you are so welcomed! I do hope you try for more events. They are fun yet very exhausting. Plan ahead for the best results, research with other plein air artists to get the feel of the event you are interested in. They all have a twist to them, all are fun regardless of the results.
All my best to you in your plein air efforts!

7/28/14, 7:00 PM  

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