Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reported Feature: Plein Air

For the Kalamazoo Gazette 10-10-10
Painting the great outdoors
Artists meet to capture Mother Nature

A pair of Sandhill cranes fly overhead, trumpeting as they arch through the white, early autumn sky.
Bart Woloson pauses to watch them pass, then turns back to his easel.
“I worked fast to put in the color,” he says of his painting-in-progress, which depicts trees and an old cart in the near-distance meadow. “Now I’ll darken parts of it, highlight (the scene) with some details.”

Woloson, who lives in Glen and Lake Forest, Ill., is one of some 20 Plein Air Artists of West Michigan who have come out this Saturday morning to the 475-acre Boudeman family farm in Richland.
The air is crisp, so everyone’s bundled in sweatshirts, jackets and caps. Some of the artists even wear gloves, including organizer Richard Jordan.
Jordan has set up his paints and brushes a quarter-mile away, alongside a large, tranquil pond flecked with deep-green lily pads. His canvas shows the water’s surface, with dark brown trees on the far shore.
The group has hosted 23 so-called Paint Outs this year, about double the number from 2009, he notes. Participation, too, has grown, to some 70 members.
Many of the Paint Outs are on easements or preserves managed by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. Fourteen finished pieces from Paint Outs are selected for a promotional calendar each year for the SMLC and the Plein Air group.
“I never ran into other artists when I was outdoors painting,” Jordan recalls. But at a 2007 show at Water Street Gallery in Douglas, called “Plein Air Affair,” Jordan met other artist who liked to paint “in the open air.”
After that event, he, Susan Badger of Lawton, Kathleen Crane of Hastings and Mike Pendola of Kalamazoo decided to start the Plein Artists of West Michigan. Its first Paint Out was in May 2008 at Cold Brook County Park in Climax, and each gathering has been followed by a group critique.
“In your studio or even outdoors, you’re isolated,” Jordan says. “Now we’re outdoors with friends and fellow artists … who can offer encouragement or say, ‘You might want to rethink that passage.’”
California watercolorist “Phil Dike said a painting is good not because it looks like something, but because it feels like something,” Jordan notes. “Painting outdoors captures the emotion of that day.”
On the other side of the pond, Brian M. Smith is squinting. Because the sky is overcast, he narrows his eyes to help him see “the shapes of colors, … what the values are relative to what you see.”
“Everything changes so quickly,” explains Smith, who is working with oils today. “You get a break in the clouds and the light shifts.”
Lori Feldpausch, just down the path, is on her second painting of the morning, focusing on the farm’s walnut trees. She sometimes takes work from these sessions to her studio to create a larger piece, she says.
Feldpausch, who lives in Marshall, had been doing commercial murals but turned to plein air after a class taught by Sharon Griffes Tarr, who’s standing nearby taking a break from her canvas and eating an apple.
“There’s no better teacher than Mother Nature. I’m here to learn,” smiles Griffes Tarr, a Great Lakes Plein Air Painters Association master member who’s been instructing for 30 years, including at East Lansing’s Bailey Center.
What can artists learn from the outdoors? For one thing, how light affects its subjects, she replies: “You have to look for textures and patterns. The eye loves color.”
Juanita Lockwood of Kalamazoo, seated in an open field with sketchpad in hand, has her eye on three yellow pine trees. She later will add watercolor to her drawings.
A worthy subject “has got to catch my eye,” Lockwood says. “That’s the one thing with plein air — you never know what you’re going to get.”

Find out more about the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan at
A show of Paint Out works will be featured in December at Gallery 344, 344 N. Rose St., Kalamazoo,, 269-343-2388.

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