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Southeastern Plein Air Invitational

May 2, 2011

Early Friday night viewers in the Reynolds Gallery, Gadsden Museum of Art

 Visible in the photo above are only a small part of the paintings that were on display at the Artist’s Reception and Auction Preview at the end of the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational in Gadsden, Alabama.  Fifteen of us painted for five days in a variety of locations.  The average per artist was two paintings a day.  I work small, so I did a few more than that.  I believe I did a total of 17 paintings of various sizes.  Granted, I’d like to have a few of them back, but then painting on location is always going to produce a few clinkers.

Bridge, Gadsden Country Club, 8x10, Gouache

 The first day, we painted on the golf course at the Gadsden Country Club.  Each artist had his/her own golf cart for the day.

Painting a barn... photo by Kevin Keenan

On Tuesday, we went about 10 miles out in the country and painted on and around the Owen Farm.  Every curve seemed to introduce another old barn.  I went back out to this area on the Saturday after the paintout and took more reference photos.

Elaine Campbell (fifth from left in green shirt) and just a few of the volunteers

Without the volunteers, this thing would never have happened.  These people were not only amazing in their ability to take care of us, they were totally dedicated to getting the job done, and did it all with constant smiles.  The volunteers treated the artists like rock stars, and were so very much appreciated.

Courtyard Window, 10x8, Gouache

On Wednesday, we had the option to paint in the downtown part of Gadsden or two other nearby towns.  Bad weather had been forecast, but no one could have anticipated just how bad it would actually be.  After painting a downtown building in the morning from the cover of a closed store entrance, I opted to sit in the interior courtyard of the Gadsden Museum and paint this upper window and its attendant ivy.  Most of us headed for our hotels around 4 pm as TV stations began showing a major tornado heading in our general direction.    The storms that came through that evening spawned a number of tornadoes and brought devastation and tragedy to a large part of Alabama.  We were extremely fortunate to have been just outside the path of the largest tornado.

Southside Bridge, 9x12, Gouache

Thursday started as a gray, cold day.  Our subject for the day was the Coosa River.  We could paint anywhere along the river, and I arrived at the “official” starting point to find Robin Roberts already painting.  After I had looked out at this historic old bridge and commented on it for the third time while trying to decide where I was going to go, Robin finally said “Ralph, I think the bridge is calling you.”  I ended up doing the painting above, and a smaller 5×7 version of it before lunch.  I also did a little 5-10 minute sketch of Robin before we broke for lunch.

Robin, 5x7, Gouache

That afternoon, I painted in two more locations and turned out two additional paintings.

Painting on Haralson Street in the Historic District photo by Kevin Keenan

 On Friday morning, we had our choice of several streets in the Historic Residential District of Gadsden.  A special treat was that several of the homeowners provided lunch to 3 or 4 artists on their porches.  This was the house where I was scheduled to eat lunch, and when I saw the old English cottage appeal of the side entrance, I couldn’t resist it.

Residence on Haralson Street, 8x8, Gouache

After lunch, we had the option to paint anywhere in Gadsden we chose, or we could pay a $10 entrance fee and compete in a quick draw competition.  I’d never done a quick draw, and wanted to include it in the overall experience of the week, so I moved two houses down and chose this place.  A horn sounded at 1pm, and again at 3pm, giving us two hours to produce a painting.  This little painting netted me an Honorable Mention.

There is much more to tell, of course.  And, the museum had every painting photographed and will provide each artist a collection of images of their work, so there will be better photographs of the paintings.  But for now, this is at least a quick recap.  I had a great week, did a ton of painting, and made some wonderful new friends.  I also learned a little more about painting… and about myself.

It was good.

Photo by Kevin Keenan


Another Mystery House

April 21, 2011
Mystery House, 9×12, Gouache
My painting of the Williford House in Fairfield, Texas still draws comments from people who recognize it, and who have been intrigued by it for years.  Now comes a new mystery house.
There are several acres that sit in the middle of a huge suburban subdivision not far from my home.  It occupies a corner at two streets, with the back and one side facing partially wooded pasture.  From one street, all that is visible is an old barn, nestled in high weeds and trees, at the end of a long driveway that is blocked by a chained gate and a very large, very serious-looking No Trespassing sign.  The other street affords a view of several rooftops peeking over a low hill.  I’ve been curious about this place since spotting it entirely by accident a few months ago.
A while back, Nell and I drove by, and I was trying to decide whether to take a stroll over the hill to get a better look.  In the back of my mind was a misguided rationale that there weren’t any No Trespassing signs on this side of the property.  Not on this side of the hill, at least.  We were parked at the curb when three pre-teen boys came walking past from a nearby subdivision.  I stopped them and asked them if they knew anything about the place over the hill.  They immediately told me they were on their way to “the haunted house” themselves, and I could go with them if I wanted to.  It obviously wasn’t their first visit to the old place, since they led me to a previously unseen path through the weeds, and cautioned me which side of the path to walk on, to avoid sticker burrs.
We topped the low hill and I saw that there was a main house and two other structures that looked like old rooming houses or barracks.  They fronted onto what was once a dirt courtyard and circular drive that curved around a large planter with a tree in the middle of it.  Off to one side was the red caboose and an oldwindmill, and farther back was the old barn that was visible from the other street.  This place didn’t look like a farm, but rather more like some sort of compound, with the buildings all very close together.  Maybe it had once been a camp meeting ground.  Whatever it was, at one time, it may have been kind of impressive.
The three boys headed into the main house, and I turned my attention to taking photographs.  Even though I could hear the boys moving through the old house, calling out to each other, I still got a sort of eerie feeling.  Maybe because I was trespassing, there seemed an almost sinister air to the place.  It definitely appeared to be deserted.  But the small satellite dish that protruded from the eve of the house seemed odd.  I have at times in my life been a writer, a storyteller, and I do believe I could come up with a story for this place.
But Nell was waiting over the hill in the car, and I felt that I had overstayed my time in the old place, so I took a few more quick reference photos, and with the sounds of three boys exploring an old ‘haunted house’ fading behind me, I made my way back through the weeds, avoiding the sticker burrs.
This painting is from one of the photos I took that day.  I’m not sure if I’m finished with it, so I’ll post it for now, and look at it again in a week or so when I return from the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational in Gadsden, Alabama.  Maybe I’ll do little more research in the Collin County land records and see what I can find.
I love a painting with a story.

Retirement in the Country

April 19, 2011
Retirement in the Country, 8×10, Gouache
Not far from where I live, there’s a strange collection of buildings.  Mostly hidden from the surrounding streets, it has the look of an abandoned compound, with a large house and a couple of two story, old rooming house style buildings clustered around what is now a dirt courtyard of sorts.  My discovery of this place, and subsequent visit with a camera is a story to be told another time.  It involves three young boys, an old guy with a camera, and a hidden path through the weeds over a hill.  Sitting on the property is also this old caboose, surrounded by weeds.  My laptop, which I normally use to paint from, is being worked on, so I pulled up a photo of the old caboose on the desktop and printed it out.  This was a fun little painting to do.

Across the Street (Plein Air)

April 18, 2011

Across the Street, 8x10, Gouache

I bought some new brushes over the weekend and was anxious to try them out.  Since we’re down to one vehicle, my outdoor work is limited to anything within walking distance, and that’s pretty much a cookie-cutter subdivision.  So I set up on my own little front stoop and spent a couple of hours focused on the townhome unit across the street.  For some reason, I had never done that before.  It’ s pleasant architecture, but not terribly exciting.  Fortunately, the lady in the unit on the left has put some furniture out on her little front patio, which added a little interest.

Most of the structures I paint are old barns or houses, not more modern or traditional architecture such as this.  But I think I’m going to find myself on city streets and residential neighborhoods a couple of times next week at the Southeastern Plein Air Invitational in Gadsden, Alabama.  Residential houses and city buildings are not subjects I’ve painted very much, so I figured a little practice might help.  I may paint whatever else I can see from the front stoop a couple more times this week.

No painting at Possum Creek…

April 17, 2011

I made the decision on Friday night not to go to Possum Kingdom Lake after all.  While I believe I would have enjoyed painting in that part of Texas, the logistics didn’t work for me.  I would have spent 6 to 8 hours each day, three days in a row, just making the round trip drive between my home and PK Lake.  I would have only gotten to paint for 3 to 4 hours on Friday, and about 3 on Saturday.  That’s it.  And the 45 mph winds would have been an added challenge.  When I combined those things with the current price of gas, it didn’t make sense for me personally.  Sorry guys, but at my age, the conditions just weren’t good enough.

As it turned out, I made the right decision.  I’m afraid I would have found myself eating smoke.

The photo above shows the fire near Possum Kingdom Lake during the day Friday.  As of this writing (Sunday), the news reports indicate that three fires have joined together in the PK Lake area, over 45,000 acres have been burned, and the fire is still not contained. As of Saturday night, 30 homes and one church had been destroyed, and some 300 more homes were being threatened.  Much of Texas is being plagued by wildfires throughout the state right now, fueled by very dry conditions and high winds.

Study for Old Red

April 14, 2011

Study for Old Red, 8x10, Gouache

 This one almost became what my friend Les Lull used to refer to as a ‘frisbee’.  It started out to be a really quick study, but the greens went bad on me almost from the beginning.  You’ll notice I didn’t say I screwed up the greens. Nope.  Wasn’t my fault.  It was the greens.  They just went bad on me.  It happens sometimes, at least it happens to me.  So I hung in there, because I really do like this barn.  It’s from a photo taken by my niece, Cathy.  I think it came out fine for a study.  I like Arizona artist David Simons’ attitude about studies.  He says they’re all “studies” until they sell

I need to find some festivals for later in the year, and get back under the tent.  I’ve got way too many “studies”.


April 13, 2011

Driveway, 8x10, Gouache

I’m going to join some folks at Possum Kingdom Lake for some plein air painting this weekend.  PK Lake is 79 miles west of Fort Worth, Texas, which makes it about 130 miles from my home.  I obviously didn’t look it up on the map before committing to the paintout, but I’m looking forward to it anyway.  Since I’ve never been to Possum Kingdom Lake, I did some exploring via Google StreetView, and found this back road that takes off from State Highway 16 a few miles from the lake.  It did have a gate, which was closed.  Normally, I’d paint that closed gate, because in this part of the country, an open gate is an invitation for lost cattle.  But in this little study, I wanted the viewer to feel welcome to explore, so I eliminated the gate entirely.  Other than that, this is pretty much what it looks like in that part of the country.