Sergio Lopez - North SF Bay Area Fine Artist

Upcoming Shows and Events

•Spoke Art: April 7, 2016. "The 5th Annual Moleskine Show." San Francisco, CA.

•Bakersfield Museum of Art: April 9th, 2016. "Kern County Plein Air." Bakersfield, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: May 1st, 2016. "The Golden Hour." Duncans Mills, CA.

•Abend Gallery: May 13th, 2016. "Contemporary Figuration." Denver, CO.

•Paso Arts Fest: May 26th, 2016. "Signature Exhibition." Paso Robles, CA.

•Los Gatos: June 18th, 2016. "Los Gatos Plein Air." Los Gatos, CA.

Sonoma Plein Air: September 10th, 2016 "Sonoma Plein Air." Sonoma, CA.

•Modern Eden Gallery: September 17th, 2016. Beautiful Bizzare Invitational Show. San Francisco, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: October 2nd, 2016. "A Splendid Journey: 40th Anniversary Show." Duncans Mills, CA.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Plein Air Easton 2016: The Major Leagues

So I did it. I went all the way to a small town in Maryland to compete in a plein air competition. Why would I do such a thing? Was it even worth it? 

Well for starters, Plein Air Easton has always had the reputation of being the best plein air event in the country. It may be debatable between a very small handful of shows, but from everything I can tell, it is the best-run event I'ver ever been a part of. Basically, everything I like about the other good events are done even better here. From the hospitality, the hosts, the opportunities for socializing between artists, the organization, etc. it's exceeded my expectations.

I arrived in Maryland on the 6th of July. I flew into Baltimore and it was almost a two hour drive to get to my hosts place in St Michaels, an even smaller town than Easton about 15 minutes away. I settled in and took a nap to recover some from my red-eye flight before I drove into the town of Easton to familiarize myself with the place. I met up with some friends who were hanging out at the Avalon Theatre (the hub for the event.) After a bit of grumbling about the heat and humidity we got some dinner and talked more shop. The day was ending, and then it was going to be time to sleep and get ready for what the event might have in store.

Pre-Paintout: Tilghman Island

They have a couple of pre-paintout events that are created for the purpose of letting artists familiarize themselves with painting in the area, and getting the locals psyched about the event. The locals were all very nice, and very few people DIDN'T know what we were doing in the area. It was clear that the Plein Air Easton staff had done an amazing job of promoting the event because there were a lot of people who were happy to see us out and about painting, and they knew where to find us.

I put a lot of effort into trying to do a good job of painting for this event. An opportunity for a nice cash prize for the Artist Choice Award winner was a good motivator. I made the first terrible mistake, one I'd be sure not to make again. I set up in a spot with no shade and no sunscreen. At least I had a hat and LOTS of water (omg water is crucial out there) but it exhausted me in a way that took me some time to recover. I am happy with this painting. I think it was one of my best paintings I did out there but it has yet to find a home at this point.

Apparently, a lot of artists put a lot of effort into their paintings, because this showing turned out to be one of the strongest of the whole event, in my opinion. When I walked into the show room, I was like "Geez, this isn't even the main show! If it's this good now, what chance do I have of being successful?" Was great to see everyone together and getting to meet all the East Coasters that I had never met before.

"It's Not The Heat (But It Is Too)" 10x8 in. oil on linen mounted on board. $550, Available.

Pre-Paintout - Cambridge, MD

This was a brand new event for Plein Air Easton. Cambridge was a town a half hour south of Easton which I thought was pretty cute and cool, and was the home of the favored IPA in the area, RAR Brewing Co. Most people chose to paint the waterfront; however, I found the downtown area plenty appealing so I stuck around. I started on a painting of a cemetary that did not turn out well at all, so I wiped it, turned 90 degrees, and painted this view instead. The lighting made a nice composition here. It was one of my favorites of the show as well, and got some compliments. Even though sales were light at these pre-events, this one found a home by the end of the show.
"Past The Bell" 9x12 inch oil on linen mounted on board. Sold.

Friday night was the night of the orientation and canvas stamping. They are smart about it, because they know the orientation is loooooong, and there are a LOT of rules they go over, and everyone seems to have a question, some a little less ridiculous than others... So they feed us and give us alcohol first, and they do a bit of a song-and-dance (literally) before they get into it, then they do the stamping afterwards so that no one bounces out before they can tell us everything. 

Side note: There was a special event Saturday at this beautiful estate called the Wye House, but I didn't take pictures of my painting or the show there, just forgot to, with everything else going on. I'm sure you can find pictures of it if you search for Plein Air Easton on Facebook.

Sunday: Paint Oxford

"Turquoise Sky" 8x10 in. oil on linen mounted on board. Sold.

I wish I had spent more time in Oxford. It was a cute little town with plenty to paint. However, this painting was a little rushed. However, I did end up selling it, and I was fairly happy with it, considering the circumstance. Again, a strong show here by the other artists, Tim Kelly did an awesome luminous interior which I really liked.

Monday

"Morning At Sleepers Pond" 12x24 inches. $1875. Available.

In the mornings I would paint at my hosts' house during the event. This was one I spent the most time on. I probably spent 4 days total on it. It was really nice to have a place that I could find something beautiful to paint right where I was staying.

"Maryland Pastoral" 12x24 inches. $1875. Available.

There is a lot of scenic farmland in Talbot County. However, it's hard to know exactly where it's ok to set up and paint. Oh, one thing I'm bringing with me next time? A good umbrella! It's dangerous to paint in the sun out there without proper protection. I did like this scene; however, half the reason I chose it was because of the tree that shaded me AND the cool breeze from the river nearby.

Tuesday

"The Birdhouse" 9x12 inches oil on canvas mounted on board. $750. Available.

Tuesday was the day I spent in the town of St. Michaels. It was a nice little town to paint in, This was painted from the yard of a host who let me paint there. I attempted a very ambitious evening painting at the harbor, but I learned my lesson: If I want to complete a multi-day painting en plein air for a competition, I better make sure that every piece of the composition will be there every day! I started a painting I was happy with, until I came back the next day and found that my boats were gone! ...And they never came back...

"Wanting What I Can't Have" 6x8 inches. Sold.

I had wanted to do a nocturne in St. Michaels ever since I drove back from Tilghman Island. One of the requirements for the show was to do a 6x8 for Sunday's special show. After hunting around for a bit, I found an interesting shop front that I purposely isolated in my composition. It was one of my favorite paintings to do of the whole event, and got me really psyched to try to paint another nocturne the next day.

Wednesday

I don't remember how Wednesday morning started out for me, but I do remember a storm drenching the area for a few hours. It was the only storm we had to deal with over the course of the event besides the 15-minute rager at the Wye House that soaked many of us. After that passed through, I went out to the town of Easton where we were required to paint for the rest of the event(more about my thoughts on that later). I was getting tired of painting "pretty" things at this point. More specifically, the monotony of the well-manicured, stately, and sameness of the foliage of the Mid-Atlantic. I found an old gas station at the Easton Marina. I enjoyed the angles and shapes of the scene in front of me. It wasn't my best painting ever, but it got me out of my rut a bit and let me hit everything again with a fresh perspective.

"Sick Of Being Pretty" 8x10 in. oil on linen mounted on board. $550 Available.

"The Warm Colors Of Night" 16x12 in. oil on canvas mounted on board. $1200 Available.

There were a lot of us who hung around the town after the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner to paint nocturnes. I found a scene in front of a building with a charming stone facade. Nocturnes can be done pretty quickly, but you have to be careful to get the color temperatures correct since you are relying completely on artificial light. You may have your own light shining on your painting/palette, but it doesn't mean the light in the scene is the same color at all. Best to knock down the saturation and work with the values/design of the scene instead, or you may be surprised when you look at what you actually painted the next day.

Thursday

We could begin bringing our paintings for the show. It was very exciting to see some of the paintings coming in already, even though the hard deadline was actually the next morning. I walked in the Academy Art Museum (where the event was being held) to see Jason Sacran's stunners. Here is one his pieces.

Courtesy of Jason Sacran via pleinaireaston.com

Friday

It's showtime! The judge Tim Newton did a good job of keeping all of us guessing what was going to win awards. There were tons of awards given, sometimes more than one to the same artist. I will do my best to post the awards here. I would link to their blog instead, but they kind of slacked this year on it.


Zufar Bikbov's Award Winners.

Eric Bowman "Best Hospitality"

Natalia Dik "Best New Artist"

Best Architectural, Ray Hassard.

Vanishing Landscape Award, Tim Kelly

Best Maritime, Elise Phillips

Life On The Farm Award, Patrick Saunders.

Best Painting By A Maryland Artist, Nancy Tankersley

Honorable Mention, Palden Hamilton.

Third Place, Camille Przewodek.

Second Place, Trey Finney. 

Grand Prize Winner, Sara Linda Poly.

Saturday

Saturday was Quick Draw day. We scoped out some areas the day before. I chose this scene because it had 3 of my requirements: Shade, Light, and Interest. Had I more time, I might do the drawing a little bit more carefully but I was satisfied with the color and brushwork. I sold it as soon as I put it on the easel, AND I nabbed a $100 Honorable Mention Award for it, so all in all it was a solid day.

Final Day

The final day of the event was a final day of sales too, They did a very smart thing where they had us all do a 6x8 painting each, which was eligible for an extra award too but more importantly they were unveiled to the public only on the last day. It was a great way to get people back into the showroom on a day that is notoriously slow. It worked, because not only did people buy a lot of the 6x8's but they bought a handful of the other paintings too. 

Was The Event Worth It?

There are very few gripes to be had with the event. The main one for me is how they "shrink" the eligible painting area for the competition paintings. We are required to have 2 paintings finished by Friday morning for the competition. To be eligible, they must be completed within the boundaries they set as the competition goes along. So for the first two days you can paint anywhere in the Delmarva Peninsula, the next two days in Talbot County, and the last two days in the town of Easton. I understand that the reason for it is that they want to give the residents of Easton a chance to see us at work during the week, but I feel like that is what the pre-events, the optional paint-outs, and the Quick Draw event is for. If we had free reign the whole event, it would help those of us who could use all the time we can get for our competition pieces.

The Quick Draw was slightly disorganized for us participating competition artists. The event was open to everyone who paid the $10 fee. There were probably 100 artists who painted that day, it could have used a bit more organization to let us know where to be to display our paintings the best we could. They could have easily designated a space for us competition artists to show our work together instead of being scattered everywhere along Harrison Street. Because it was a long street to walk along and see eveything, I didn't want to leave my easel unattended for too long while I mingled.

The Weather

The outdoor painting conditions in July on the East Coast are pretty unforgiving. The heat plus humidity is brutal and is capable of draining all the energy out of the unprepared Californian. Fortunately I was given plenty of forewarning. It was bad but not too unmanageable. The bug situation wasn't bad either. A few mosquito bites but fortunately no tick incidents. They make a big deal of them for good reason, but I was pretty cautious for the most part. Good pro-tip was to bring a tarp to stand on and set your gear on top of. It also came in handy when a flash thunderstorm came and drenched us but not my gear because my tarp saved it :) The weather is much less predictable than California but if you put your big boy pants on, you can survive.

Sales

Sales are a tricky beast. I have always heard fables of the amazing sales that are had at Easton. In fact they boast of record-breaking sales year after year. They are pretty forthcoming about that information both before and after the event. When you do an event and expect to sell tons of paintings, and you dont, you can't help but think there is a disconnect. Sales were fairly evenly spread over the almost-60 artists, Of course there are people like Mark Boedges who pretty much sell out, but he is the outlier. And then there are people who don't sell anything, which is pretty heartbreaking. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle. Depending on travel cost, you never know where your profit margin is going to lie. If you are consistently selling over 2k worth of paintings in your local plein air events, then by all means, step up to the majors and give Easton a try. You are probably a really good plein air painter or at least know how to sell yourself like one, which is probably as important. People who can keep their travel costs down will be rewarded, I think.

Given these obstacles, is worth doing? By and large, yes. Besides the money you can stand to make, the experience and growth as a painter that you gain is also valuable. You will find yourself a changed plein air artist at the end of the show.

Thoughts On My Approach

As is often the case with these places I'm new to, I finally started to get a good feel for the area after being there over a week. I was expecting to paint more maritime scenes out there but I found myself drawn to many varieties of different subjects. Had I been better prepared, I might do more paintings of the beautiful countryside, and bringing in a lot more of my natural propensities into my approach next time. I normally tend to paint hills and vistas here in California, and not having those to fall back on, I painted things where the mid-ground/foreground are more dominant in the scene.

There is a strategy to events like these. You can go about it in 2 different ways - go for the prize money or paint for the library sales? Meaning, do you put all your time into painting two amazing pieces for the shot at winning the big prizes, or do you try to put together a solid body of (not too expensive) work that appeals to the buying public instead? Neither strategy is clearly better, but it does mean you have to plan accordingly. They treat you extremely well, with dinners provided for the artists almost every day if we choose to take advantage of them, but they do cut into valuable painting time. If I were to do the event again, I might skip a few of these extra events, fun as they are, for good painting light. 

This is a long event. Counting the pre-events and the duration of the gallery show, it's a week and a half. That's almost double the majority of events I've done before. You can use this opportunity to learn to pace yourself, and/or stretch out and try new things you may not have before because of time constraints. Some people tend to consider "plein air" to always be "alla prima" yet the majority of paintings that won awards clearly had been worked on over several days, or at least not done in one shot. All this extra time, and long talks with fellow artists like Brenda Boylan, Jason Sacran and Danny Robbins, made me pause to consider what I am really trying to accomplish with my plein air paintings in the grand scheme of things. I'm excited to consider what might be in store for my landscape work in the future.

There is a lot I learned about my ability, and how to paint for such a high caliber event. I will go forward with plein air events with the mantra: "Paint Like You're In Easton."

I am hoping to come back next year and have an even stronger showing.

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