10 Things I learned from this years Plein Air Painting Festivals

Plein air painting of Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah, submitted to The Red Rock Arts Festival Paint Out Competition

1. Don’t come with expectations, not just unrealistic ones, but any at all. Expectation only produces disappointment. You might not win awards, sell work, or make anything that you’re happy with, but this an opportunity to ask “why” and to learn ALOT. No opportunity is wasted if you learn something. Don’t go into this with preconceived notions, anywhere from This is going to be my big break, to I’m way out of my league, and every thought in between. 

2. Embrace networking. Let it happen naturally. If you really loved a piece, or have a burning question, introduce yourself to that Artist. Talk to the other artists, especially the ones whose work you admire. Talk to the judges, patrons ect. There are plenty of conversation starters at an event like this. Remain open and attend the social events. Make sure to bring your business cards, too. Hand them out to people you meet, stick them in your name tag, and set them by your paintings. I didn’t do this, but I saw others doing it, and took note.

3. Zen mind, beginners mind. Come as a student, ready to learn. Painting in this sense is a lot like mediation. Even the most experienced meditator has trouble with the most basic principle, sometimes, not getting attached to certain thoughts. So, you return to the breathe, the foundation of being present. With painting, sometimes overwhelm or mental formations that come up get in the way of seeing, of painting. That is when you must return to some basic excersises, the foundations. Learn from what you’ve done wrong, and learn from the other painters. Study their colors, study their marks, study the hints of process in the finished piece. Attend the free demos. Plein air painting has a way of keeping the foundational principles of painting and making a compelling image in general at the forefront. Everyday you have the opportunity to study the same light and landscape as the other painters…this is beautiful meeting of minds and catalyst for growth. 

4. Don’t compare yourself to the other participants and art works created. This, is easier said than done. Especially after looking at your work so much that you can’t even see it anymore. Nothing is accomplished by comparing yourself. Everyone has their own path, their own progression, moments of breaking through, and moments of feeling stuck. We are all evolving, as artists, as spiritual beings. You also can’t judge a book by its cover. Is this person a native to this place, and speaks the language of the scene? Did that person get in a fight with someone they love? Does this person paint 3 times a day as opposed to a couple times a week? We won’t know. Everyone has their own unique vision of the world, good days and bad days, as do we. So their approach and our evaluation is ultimately mostly subjective. 

5. Keep it simple. There are really complex scenes in areas that are well reputed for outstanding natural beauty, features, what have you. Pick one aspect to focus on, and don’t be afraid of painting something overlooked or mundane. Is it the color compliments in the scene that draw you in? The atmosphere? The linear perspective? The contrast? Paintings can get too heavy if we try to implement too many “new things” at once or take on something too complex in a short period of time. Pick one aspect, and simplify the rest. Do a good amount of cropping to help with that. Make sure your format (panel or canvas size) can accommodate that cropping. I would recommend super horizontal surfaces (exaggerated rectangles) for dense or vast scenes. Do a lot of squinting and finger framing, or if you have a view finder, that works too. I made some little wooden ones, but I think they sell small metal versions for this specific purpose. 

6. Make friends with the locals and tell them that you are participating. They may have a perfect little remote spot right in their backyard! We met a hot chili vendor at the farmers market in Escalante, and he invited us over to paint and pick apples at his property. 

7. Take pictures of the work that sold or won awards (that moves you too, obviously). Sketch their compositions. Place a black and white filter in them to see their values. Understand their process and perhaps what helped them to stand out against the others. It’s always helpful to take note of a compelling visual.

8. Keep your emotions out of it. As artists we are emotional beings, sensitive to every little thing. Getting rejected can really hurt, and getting attention can really swell the ego and create some serious blindness. So neither extreme is helpful. Learn to seperate yourself from your work, because it will be critiqued in some way by the public, by the other artists, and the by judges indirectly and directly. The worst is when nothing is said about your work at all. Don’t read into it. Accept constructive cristicm, ignore destructive criticism, and move on. 

9. Call it a plein air painting festival, instead of a competition. Set yourself up for fun, not winning or losing. Art is not about that. Words have so many implications, you can create abundance and so much positivity just with the words that you use and how they manifest out into the universe. Based in this principle, there is no room for bad vibes or negative self talk! So lift up the collective energy and be festive instead of competitive. Make friends not opponents. 

10. Critique your own work at the end. Create a plan of how you can improve where you think you may have fallen short. Write a list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Implement what you’ve learned and keep an eye out for what challenges you in your daily painting practice. Create excersises for yourself to address your own personal critiques and maybe even the criticism that others have offered to you. Examples of this include but are not limited to: value and compositional drawings before painting, painting thicker, adjusting medium ratios, adding or subjecting colors to your palette, painting monochrome. 

“You” are not your art.

Being an artist means a lot of things to me.

Being an artist is how I connect to my surroundings, its how I make sense of the world.
Its a calling that I can’t ignore, not just a hobby. I’ve been making “art” since I could hold a crayon.

The only reason I am a “professional artist” is because I can’t imagine doing anything else with my time. So it has to work. I have to somehow make it work.

Art has been the hand that I held throughout a traumatic childhood. It accepted me when I felt rejected. In a way you could say it has been the foundation to my personality. My paintings were my friends when I didn’t feel like I had any. I would even venture to say that art is my identity.

And that is where I need to stop and re-evaluate.

Art is a part of my identity, it is not my identity. And ultimately, I am not even my identity. I am so much more than that. I am a living and walking miracle, perfect in my nature. I am already the creation that I am always striving to create. Do I believe this?

Sometimes, but not always.

When push comes to shove, I’m willing to let the whims of my creative process push me around like an abusive boyfriend. Funny enough, when I believe in myself the most is when my art wins awards, or sells, or when I feel confident about what I create. When all the right forces come together in a painting and I am channeling something of the divine. But what happens when the forces of the divine don’t blow through me and onto an eight by ten inch masonite board through the medium of paint? What happens when I’m sitting in a room full of talented professional artists and I don’t win any awards? I don’t sell one piece. The paintings are not even recognized by the public, by the magazines, or by the other artists, even.

Yes, this happened to me recently. I hit a real deep low in the desert for a few trying days. I felt like a failure, beyond rejected, a blundering joke unworthy of the title artist. Maybe even unworthy as a person. But those are my deeper insecurities coming out, veiled by a normally flowing stream of creativity and other distractions and maybe some sales or acceptances along with the rejections. But here I am in the desert, feeling alone with only this rejection, and nothing else. Faced with the very thing that I fear the most. The desert is a strange and sublime place. On one hand it will test your “identity” and on the other it is this giant container that will hold you through that process. “The truth” is all around you. And if you ignore it, it will haunt you.

I’m realizing that I had fallen into a recurring pattern that I’ve had all my life, and that I’ve worked on since a traumatic accident I had right after I graduated from art school, that kept me in hospitals and in rehab for a year. And the healing process took even longer than that, I would say that I’m still in it. I used to measure my self worth or self love in how much I weighed, or what other people thought of me. How much love they could give me, or the illusion of it. As artists, we have to be careful of our self destructive behaviors, of our obsessions. Even one’s art can become self destructive, it can become an obsession if you’re not careful. And I noticed the line between “my art” and “me” began to blur again.

I spent the whole summer, painting more than I have in a long time. I made the switch from studio painting and creating outdoor studies, to plein air painting. And while I thought this transition would be easy because I’ve been oil painting for such a long time, its actually been very challenging. No refuge or distance between “studio” and “home.” The mess of my life in one large messy heap. I’ve been looking forward to the Escalante Canyon Arts Festival in Utah all summer, thinking I would really have the opportunity to advance my career as a “professional artist.” We got there the first day, in a total rush, and I barely caught the daylight to paint towards the end of a long hike in the hot sun. The next few days were full of emotional and physical stressors, hiking in the unforgiving canyons, through slick rock, cottonwood brush, and sand. Mud was caked on my back from sweating as I toted around my big backpack filled with art supplies. My shorts smelled like urine from drinking so much water and constantly squatting to pee. No shower or creek to bathe in afterwards.

Thoughts in my head were geared towards, what will the judges, what will others think of this. And as anyone knows, this is creative suicide.

The ego, in my opinion, is the anti-thesis to art. And I was very much in my ego. The whole notion of being in a competition and being the best, made my painting suffer a lot, and that showed. It made me suffer a lot.

My mom always tells me that suffering is created by having expectations. Nothing is a given. Not even the person you love the most and that you think will always be there. I made the mistake of having a lot of expectations, of myself, and the artwork I produce. Of thinking that “I” = “my art.”

Art is less like a linear progression, and more like waves in the ocean. Progress peaks, and it falls. It flows, or it doesn’t. No matter how professional and quantifiable you try to make your art practice, neither are givens. Not if your creating from the soul, anyways. Not if you allow an once of subjectivity to enter into your objective process.

Art is inherently subjective. Yes there are those that will try to equate it to intellect, or science, genius even! But art in my mind is the spirit in motion. For the record, I saw many paintings that didn’t sell or win awards that I would have picked, that I really loved. And I am a Pratt graduate, an individual that spent years among old masters and contemporary masters alike in New York City. Art, even good art, will face rejection. Contrary to some other blogs that I’ve read in attempt to not feel so alone, sometimes I face more rejection than acceptance, sometimes a lot more.

After days in the darkness, the light began to poke through again.

I suddenly had a rush of a revelation. “I” am so much more than this. I don’t really know where it came from. We’ve been meditating all week every morning together.

And then I said, ah ha, It was after my morning yoga practice that this happened, that I allowed myself, just for an hour, to be alone, to be empowered in my mind and in my body. But somehow I had forgotten to practice during the week of the competition. I had forgotten to put myself and my healing first. Or perhaps it was just the practice that I needed to cement the mounting truth that my negative self talk was trying to bury, deep in the sand of my being. Perhaps I needed a moment in the darkness to recognize the light again. The yoga sparked the little seedling of truth that was crying out, asking me to look deeper, to be compassionate, asking me to love myself and have gratitude, without conditions. I almost felt like I was possessed, not by evil, but by the spirit.

What I produce is not a measure of myself worth, my value as a human being.
A good or a bad work of art does not determine whether or not I am lovable, whether or not my life is worth living.
“I” am not determined by art sales, awards, or positive recognition.

My therapist and “zen mentor” once told me before I left for this trip, “Don’t let your art pull the wagon.”


I was offended at the time, secretly saying in my head, “You don’t think I can do it!?” While I nodded in agreement, trying to appear wise and on her level.
And I understand what she meant now.

Does this mean I will stop entering competitions, or trying to be “a professional artist?” No, quite the opposite actually. By some strange twist of fate there is another plein air competition next week in Moab, Utah, and I plan on participating in it. What has to change is my mindset. What has to transform is my own sense of self, belonging, and worth. Every step forward is another opportunity to practice that.

Namaste.

How to begin a painting outdoors

Do you tiptoe into the water, or do you jump? Does it depend on your mood or the circumstance? Painting can be a lot like swimming. Adapting to the unknown, transitioning your body between elements, and maybe splashing around awkwardly until you get the hang of the right strokes.

The unrippled pool or in this case, the blank panel, can be the most intimidating part of the plein air process, at least it has been for me. I thought I’d share how I deal with this “void” and create smoother transitions between making the first marks, whether that means construction lines, blocking in, or a combination of techniques.

I was always more of a studio painter when it came to oil painting, and I took that practice outdoors with me. This means I learned to separate elements like composition, value, color, and atmosphere in layers of mediums with different ratios. “Putting it all together” and the alla prima technique has been a real challenge for me, and I think that’s what keeps bringing me back to en plein air painting. Ironically, this has also presented some blocks in my studio practice as well. So if you’re facing the same challenge in your outdoor painting practice, check out these simple solutions that seem to work for me.

  • Covering up the void

When I was in rehab I turned an old children’s book into a sketchbook. The words made the page not precious or scary to me, and it led to some cool discoveries. Basically, getting rid of the white gesso not only eliminates the fear of the first mark, but also serves a very important function in the plein air process. If you want to fully complete an oil painting in a couple of hours, you need to start with a dried, oily toned ground. This is also important if you know you won’t be returning to the scene. The toning color doesn’t matter so much to me because I never know what light or scene I’m going to encounter, so I’ll often mix the colors before I scrape my palette at the end of a painting to tone the surface for my next paintings. This usually produces a light grey, a middle value shade that is usually pretty ideal for blocking in. Sometimes I’ll use a sky color if I’m doing a lot of water and sky, or yellow/red if I’m dealing with a lot of light. The grey end of palette color happens to be great for cloudy days or muted palettes, which I paint a lot of! I stay pretty true to a 50/50 oil gamsol ratio for the ground, perhaps using the gamsol a bit more liberally, but you want the paint to really stick and dry quicker when you get out to paint. Most of the paint application for me is thick and direct from the palette after I have a dry toned ground to work with.

  • Orientation and finding landmarks

I used to map out the painting with an oil sketch, which often frustrates me and turns the process into something more contrived than free flowing. More recently I’ve started to just make a couple of construction lines, to divide up the space based on the composition I’m looking for in the chaos of the scene. What has worked for me the most, has been blocking in with my darkest darks with the mentality of marking the landmarks. This could be big shapes, big shadows. I dance across the panel with my brush, somewhere between painting and drawing. This particularity has come from painting outside almost everyday, and just getting super comfortable with experimenting and navigating between 2 and 3 dimensional worlds. I have been feeling the composition, more than directly translating it. Plein air is more about pushing things around, rather than painting by numbers. And it has to be, because things can change so quickly outdoors!

  • Painting in front of other people

There is nothing like having a crowd of people watching you and walking past you when your beginning the most vulnerable and “ugly” part of the painting. Sometimes the process is beautiful, and sometimes it’s not! Painting in public has been a huge confidence booster, it made me realize how insecure about painting I am and how much that holds me back. Plein air is a lot about loosening up and letting go, two ingredients that you need in order to make a stellar painting in my opinion. I’ve learned how to embrace the fragility of feeling exposed, which in turn has pushed my ego and my insecurity out of focus, allowing me to loosen up and feel the scene more intuitively.

  • Pre mixing all your colors

Every mark in a plein air painting counts. I match all the colors from the scene to the colors in my palette, producing shades for each color, cool and warm, muted and vibrant. You need to have a keyed palette, but you can always mix directly on the panel and palette after you’ve found your bearings in the landscape. Like I said before, my darkest darks are usually my first marks now, so I want them to be the same color I’m going to use throughout the painting session.

So between toning your surface, block in sketching landmarks, painting in public, and pre mixing your palette, you should be able to head into battle armed and ready, as Winston Churchill would put it. Of course everyone is going to approach an outdoor painting differently, and part of how I discovered this process is by trying a bunch of different things and putting them together in a way that works for me. So if you haven’t tried one of these things before, I would encourage you to give it a go, and just see how it feels! Maybe it has a place in your mental toolbox.

VINS

En Plein Air Painting Festival

Last fall, before my long winter hibernation, I participated in En Plein Air Painting Festival at The Vermont Institute of Natural Science and Raptor Rehabilitation Center in Quechee, Vermont.

I painted on the trails, by the river, marshes, and in the open meadow for seven days, capturing the peak of New England fall foliage, my palette a swathe of earth tones and warm pigments. Before all my painting sessions I visited the incredible raptors; owls, ravens, bald eagles, hawks, and falcons. On one of the last days I painted a male snowy owl and two Ravens. They felt so mystical and wild, it was an awesome opportunity.

I ended up getting second place in the quick paint competition. This means you finish your outdoor painting in less than four hours. It was raining so I stood under my umbrella, rain drops dripping from my hood, and my hands getting pretty wet and cold. I also made the front page of the local paper! The photographer captured the exact light I was attempting to capture in the scene by the river.

Plein Air Workshop

In 2018 I taught my first Plein Air Painting Workshop, focused on foundational oil painting techniques and the process of en plein air painting.

The most significant message during this course is that Nature is our greatest teacher. I wanted to encourage painters to ask the scene, not me, to answer certain questions pertaining to composition, shape, light, color, and depth. My hope was to encourage others to transcend modes of thinking, and communicate with their surrounding environment intuitively, deeply, and with an open heart.

This way of painting, and creating a flowing dialogue, has created a huge transformation for me, and continues to. It allows me to recognize the complex living organisms all around me, and for a moment to tap into that energy that words cannot describe. This connection nourishes my soul and increases my sense of compassion for something that I am apart of and inextricably linked to. To me en plein air painting is so much more than direct observation; it is an emotional and meditative experience that brings me to the very spirit of Nature. Its also about connecting with your own sense of adventure; swimming through tall grass, hungrily searching for a scene you feel kinship with, and breaking a sweat looking for the perfect spot!

World Of Interiors Magazine

I was recently featured in the summer 2018 campaign “Artistic Impressions” in the Conde Naste publication, World of Interiors, UK. One of my paintings was featured in each of the three issues. The last issue, October, has a ton of information on the annual London Design Festival. The paintings featured include, Long Pond 2015, Impermanence 2018, and Tine 2018. The theme I had in mind for this campaign reflects my interest in conveying strong value and color gradients, either monochromatic or complimentary colors. I tried to choose peices that reflect space in particular, whether that means expansiveness in composition or creating depth with light and perceived distance.

 

August 2018 PC WOI Instagram

 

Long Pond, 2015

 

September 2018 PC WOI instagram

 

Impermanence, 2018
October 2018 PC WOI Instagram

 

Tine, 2018

Time Lapse Painting

I awoke before sunrise with a stack of gessoed, orange stained masonite panels and planted myself in front of the window panes overlooking the Worcester mountain peaks in the barn home. 
My boyfriend and I were house and seedling sitting as the farmers were traveling for a few days. 
The full, supermoon light poured in and I sat, soaking in it's energy before setting up my easel. My eyes circled the glowing orb, a ghost beckoning a silent reverie. I followed the silvery arm-like 
beams outward, into the darkness of night, spreading across the sleeping fields, all the way to my 
feet on the concrete floor. 

As the sun began to emerge and illuminate the mountains, casting a pale pink and 
orange glow on the frosted ice caps, I began my painting, of my favorite peak "No Name." Time 
unraveled before me. I made the finishing touches, as the shadows drained into the tree line, while listening to the 
slow pumping of the watering hose next to me. The sound reminded me of the breathing tube I had to 
use in the hospital as my collapsed right lung fluttered, day and night, into a chest tube. 
Everything is 
coming alive, I thought. 

The day, the mountains, the birds, the seedlings are coming alive. I am coming alive. 
As the day continued on, I returned to my easel at 12pm, 3pm, and 4pm, and tried to 
capture the light over the course of an hour. I continued to use the same color palette that I mixed at dawn, but adding variations of grey, and mixing more blue into the oranges, reds, and whites. By dusk I was mostly just adding a lot of ultramarine blue! As the sun began to set behind the 
mountains, I watched the dip in the ridge line, like the contour of a profiled mouth, swallow the 
egg yolk sun whole. I expressed this with swift, hungry, shadowy brush marks. What must it be 
like, to be No Name for a day? I wondered. 

It was a beautiful experience to sit 
and observe such a small part of the vast landscape, and explore 
that pivotal area where the light and sky change over the mountain ridge. I felt the charge of 
energy, where air and water meet earth. I felt these elements interacting, inside of me, and all 
around me. 

Additionally, I had greeted the moon and journeyed with sun from the east to the west. 
It's such a trip to know this magical sequence of events is happening each and every day. 
I've included these four studies entitled "A Day with No Name" in show24 at The Front Gallery. I'm 
happy to announce they have sold as a set! Even though the physical records will be leaving me, the memory leaves a powerful imprint. And for that I am so grateful.

 

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 7.38.43 AM

 

“A Day with No Name” Oil on masonite, 2018, 4 x 4 “
Knowing is loving.

 

Show 23

Show23 at The Front Gallery!

This exhibition focuses a lot on color and light it seems, largely due to the work of this show’s guest artist Jeanne Thurston. The gallery is starting off 2018 with some beautiful art and new innovative ideas! My first painting of the year “Impermanence” seeks to merge experiences of the landscape on a farm with my own internal landscape exploring emotional and physical healing. 

We have to break open in order to let the light enter.

45488403-236F-466D-8941-920C5296EFB3Sculpture by Hasso Ewing, color paintings on Beehive Bars on panel by guest artist Jeanne Thurston, installation view by Janet Van Fleet, and wall mural by Michelle Lesnak. 
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Collage by Deluxe Unlimited, and oil painting by me, Lydia Gatzow

hunger mountain

Just hung some paintings at the natural health food store in Montpelier, Vermont!!!
This work will be exhibited for the month of January, 2018 in the art cafe of the store. Hours are 8AM-8PM daily!
623 Stone Cutters Way in Montpelier, Vermont
All work is for sale. 30% of proceeds will go towards The Good Heart Farmstead where I am currently yurt living, farming, and painting. Check them out as well! They are offering spring, summer, and fall CSA shares. 
PS Hunger Mountain is one of the peaks in the Worcester Range, which has been a huge source of inspiration for me on the farm. 

 

“Field Studies” At Hunger Mountain Coop