Plein Air painting conjures images of lazy summer afternoons where Frenchman long now passed on once stood in a field or beside a stream, painting masterpieces that would last beyond their lifetimes.
Impressionism was literally born from the plein air experience, as the artist worked quickly to capture the impressions of an outdoor setting through a few hours of changing light. And change it does, moment by moment.
Last week I followed a large group of exceptionally talented painters (about 87 of them) from around the country (and one from Russia) who made the pilgrimage to upstate New York for a 5-day plein air festival, high in Adirondack Mountains. This festival was generously sponsored and coordinated by the publisher of the newly relaunched Plein Air Magazine, with the help of local plein air painter, Sandra Hildreth from the positively inspired arts community of Saranac Lake, NY. (Saranac Lake will be holding their 3rd Annual Adirondack Plein Air Festival August 18-21—don’t miss it!)
As a writer, you capture these things differently, intellectually mulling it, to paint a mental picture that express the feelings they evoke (check out my workshop next week on doing just this). But for these 5 days, I stepped behind the easel to view this pristine world as only an artist can.
We started at Paul Smith’s College (the only 4-year college in the Adirondack Park), where many of these well known artists spent the first day painting on the grounds around the college’s VIC (Visitors Interpretive Center), despite the rain and slight chill to the air. The grounds of Paul Smith’s offer trails and many lake views, along with the convenience of bathrooms—so everyone could ease comfortably toward the true plein air experience.
The second day, these now Adirondack-hardy souls left the comfort of the college for trails unknown (okay, they were known, but I didn’t know them). I stayed with the local leader, Sandra, a talented plein air painter herself. The caravans followed Sandra like a sherpa into the misty wilderness near Tupper Lake, where we stopped beside Bog River Falls.
Other days found us outside of Lake Placid on the Adirondack LOJ road, taking long views of the distant mountains in one direction and the Olympic ski jump in another, or viewing the misty mountaintops from the Saranac from the Fish and Game Club, where the painters lined up with their easels, silently chasing the clouds on their canvasses.
But my favorite location was sitting at the base of the Wilmington Flume, the rush of the AuSable River careening towards me. Okay, I painted rocks—just a few rocks. (If you’re read my posts on my bad guitar playing, I’m even worse at painting.) This experience helped me appreciate those artists who took positions with their easels at the top of the gorge, precariously set just feet from the gorge where the water rushed below them. I’ve heard art was dangerous, but I didn’t know what that meant before.
As a writer, it literally opened my eyes to sitting still and taking in the surroundings. It’s hard to appreciate how much these landscapes can permeate your mood and edit your thinking without actually being there—unless your eyes fall on a painting that can take you there in your mind. And of course, without artists, few of us could ever really experience the wilderness—because we’re too busy driving past it with our IPODs blasting.
For a photo tour of the entire series of events, go to Plein Air magazine’s online page.
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