I just got back from participating in the Augusta MO Plein Air painting festival the past week and
this was my first year to actually participate more than one day. Usually, I pop in for a paint out, pop in for a workshop a different day, and maybe do one or two more paint outs. This was also the first year I framed my paintings for judging at the end of each paint out.
The festival is set up so that there are one or two painting locations each day out in the Missouri wine country. They are timed events, usually about 3-4 hours each. You find your scene, paint a painting in the wind, rain, sun- or sometimes all three- come in, frame your piece, and hang it up to be judged
This goes on for 10 days, and let me tell you, the people that do this for real on a regular basis are nothing short of Bad Ass Art Heroes in my book.
They come from all over the country with their frames, painting supplies, easels, canvases or paper, umbrellas, lights, bottles of water and snacks prepared for the duration- 10 days. They paint every day, all day, lugging around all of their gear from one spot to another. They slather sunscreen, watch for ticks, get very little sleep, not optimal nutrition, and everyone gets dehydrated and has a case of allergies at least one day. The lovely people of Augusta open their homes to artists and the event coordinators have lunch or dinner provided each day . They truly do a wonderful job for the festival.
So this year I decided to try participating in successive days and really going "all in" - Which means paint days in a row instead of dropping in, framing my pieces and putting them up for judging.
It's intimidating to put yourself in a place where you feel like you're an amateur in your chosen profession, and if anything can make you feel like that, it is plein air painting, and watercolor in plein air has it's own unique set of challenges.
It is much safer for me to stay in my studio where I feel confident in my painting routine, a big part of what I love about watercolor is it's instantaneous feel- like the light and objects splashed themselves onto the paper- leaving the viewer to discover the essence and magic that is in the scene. And these plein air artists who I revere know how to do that.
I want to soak that up, see their process and assimilate new understanding into my painting.
So plein air for me is still at that uncomfortable stage, with a desire and motivation to learn more. Some inner drive forces me to go and practice this kind of painting. If Van Gogh could wear candles in his hat and Georgia could live in the back of her model A in the desert to paint outside, I can do it too!
You know what happens when you put yourself in a position where you feel uncomfortable? You become vulnerable to all kinds of self-defeating thoughts. Here are some of the literal thoughts that go through my head:
"I am painting total crap out here"
"If I frame this and put it up, I will look like an amateur"
"I don't fit in here, what do I think I'm doing here?"
"Burn it before anyone sees"
"This is impossible!!"
" I'm wasting time I could be using to paint in my studio"
"This is a waste of time and money and everything hurts, my lips are chapped and I have windburn. I'll probably get Lyme disease"
"This feels like I'm polishing a turd"
"I should be home painting in studio ,taking care of the house, dogs, seeing my parents, doing laundry, getting groceries-fill in the blank."
"I am wasting gas money"
"Look at all the 20 year olds- that's when I should have started this, I'm too old "
"Look at the artists my age, they are pros at this"
"I didn't win a ribbon, I will never succeed in this"
Yes really. Every single one of those and more float across my mind until I can shift and tell myself what I know is the TRUTH- which is:
1. " I am putting myself in an uncomfortable position to become better"
2. " This allows me to feel the way my watercolor students feel when they are learning new skills"
3. "I have chosen to do this because I want to expand my grasp of the methods and techniques of watercolor to become a better artist."
4. " I am so blessed to be able to come to a beautiful place and paint!"
5. "Painting out here is about process, not the outcome. The paintings are valuable because of the lessons I learn from each one"
I went to about 8 of the paint outs and stayed successive days. Paint, eat, paint, sleep, paint, eat, paint, sleep. I put up my easel next to artists who I knew were pros at this. I framed at least 5 pieces for judging. I did all of this and I learned so much. I felt myself understanding and applying concepts that I had not been successful at before.
I not only didn't feel like burning all of my work, but I also actually liked some pieces and was happy with them. I learned that even when a painting wasn't successful, I learned something from it. Even more so than I learned from the successful paintings.
I learned that I was not the only one who felt like an amateur, that even the best painters don't have winning paintings every day, and that it was SO very worth every minute that I invested out there learning, painting, thinking and observing.
Part of truly being an artist means your ego has to take a hike and become secondary to the work. When we put ourselves in the position of being an amateur, that's when we remember how to be an artist- how to look at things in different ways, experiment, and try things we have not yet mastered, so that we expand, grow, and become accustomed to not knowing all the answers, but being willing to occupy that space for awhile and learn.
I think there is a big life lesson there and I'm so thankful to still be able to learn it!
With love and gratitude-- Go try that hard thing- you won't regret it!