Last year at the National Oil Painters of America convention in Fredericksburg, Texas, I was fortunate to hear Joe Paquet speak on Authenticity and Creativity. Click here for a summary of his talk. After that my goal was to take a workshop from him. He teaches plein air which is totally out of my comfort zone, but my intuition told me I could learn something valuable more than just how to paint a landscape. Plus, I wanted to get out of the safety of my studio and try to connect with the great outdoors. Painting anything is about connecting. Right?
My bags packed and art supplies safely tucked away in my new pull cart, I could have been mistaken for a bag lady. I am ready I thought to myself. Fifteen hundred miles later I arrived in St. Paul. Walking into Joe's studio in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota my heart leaped with anticipation. Beautiful landscapes hung on the walls, soft classical music filled the air, and a six foot plus Joe Paquet stood by his easel surrounded by a number of eager students. The next three hours flew by quickly with so much information - his expectations and his views and philosophy about good art. I was inspired! I literally had to hold back the tears that seemed to fill my eyes. Did I say that I was inspired!?! And I wasn't the only one; Joe had that same effect on people back in Fredericksburg too.
After lunch was a demonstration along the banks of the Mississippi river. The sun was shinning, our view was breathtaking perched high above the river and Joe was in command at the easel.
I learned about light and shadow averaging, mixing greens from yellow to violet on the prismatic scale, and how the dark greens really have a deep violet hue in them. He demonstrated what he called "freezing the light." Great day, great information!
Day two and I was ready. Unfortunately the weather was ready too and it turned nasty. Never fear, Joe, like Gen. Patton leading his army through Sicily, assured us that we could handle a little rain and wind. Even though there was a large pavilion to take shelter in the views wouldn't be the same. I'm not as tough as I use to be, but I was determined not to wimp out. Dragging my cart over the hill I forged ahead looking for that perfect view. The wind began to increase and my umbrella kept turning inside out and eventually flew off into the air. My painting that morning was a wash out and I was soaked to my skin. Joe came around and sent us off for an early lunch reminding us to be back by one o'clock.
The afternoon weather got worse so all of us headed for the pavilion and this time Joe agreed that it might be better to take shelter. My grandad use to tell me stories of Patton and the muddy, cold marches that seemed to never end. I think I know now how he might of felt. Quickly everyone set up their easels as Joe passed out hot coffee. (He does have a kind heart.) Hoping for a better start, I bungee'd my easel to my cart and began painting. The wind picked up with sporadic gust of winds that I later found out were from 60 to 70 mph. Gee that's what we have in Florida leading up to a category one hurricane.
Sheets of rain blew horizontally constantly; I needed windshield wipers on my glasses. Sounds of easels falling over and the sound of large tree branches cracking and falling filled the air as I held on tightly to my easel with one hand and the brush with the other. I saw a roll of paper towel fly by landing in a large puddle of water and rolling out like it was a red carpet rug for the Oscars. Limb after broken limb dotted the landscape, but we all stayed at our posts feverishly painting. Hm mm, oil and water don't mix well and I kept dabbing my palette trying to keep it dry. Water dripped off the back of my panel that acted as a shield for my paint box.
Gen. Joe was keeping our spirits up as he came around giving us short critiques and passing out coffee. Did I mention the temperature dropped to around 50 degrees.
By four o'clock we were all done for the day, and believe it or not my painting wasn't too sucky.
Joe gathered us together and told us we had all done good and that he was proud of us. "If we could paint under these conditions," he told us, "we could paint anywhere no matter what the weather might be." He brought us a special treat, and all I can say is we toasted to our success with Joe telling us that tomorrow would be a better day. And it was.
REFLECTION: Now you might think to yourself that I was unhappy with my experience, but oddly enough I am/was not at all unhappy with my experience; in fact just the opposite. After a hot bath and a little more spirituous libations, I felt mildly comforted and greatly encouraged, an almost blissful feeling engulfed me. We don't get a chance too often to test ourselves and to reach down into that deep well of tenacity and determination. I thank you, Joe Paquet, for your encouragement and your show of strength to not let us wimp out and go back to our soft and easy place. Through your encouragement you helped me to see that I have the Right Stuff to be a plein air painter under pretty much any conditions. Yes, the elements tested my fortitude with a little help from our leader - I did it! My inner voice spoke to me and said "Good girl, you did it." This I had to share with my husband as we drove back to Florida.
Later on the way home, I went back to Joe's website and read an article he had written. It said it all. The Living Experience ; Why Paint Plein Air? Joe Paquet is truly a teacher among teachers! Thanks Joe for a great experience!