Late Spring of this year I took a Master Class with Stuart Shils at the Philadelphia Academy of Art, I'm such a huge fan of him and his work. It was a great experience that months later is finally having a positive effect on my own work. He gave a talk the first night that was simply fantastic the next day we hit the field to paint en plein air. First let me say the last time I was in Philadelphia was when I was about 5-7 years old so I didn't really remember that visit but I fell hard in love with that town on this trip. What a GREAT city and so pretty with tons of art around. Now I've been painting for a long time and have done all kinds of work but our first day out there and being a little intimidated it felt and looked like I'd never painted in my life. I'm not comfortable painting plein air but am drawn to it like a moth to bright lights - it's really about confidence. In my dream en plein air moment I go out to effortlessly whip up a masterpiece while dazed on-lookers ooo and awww frantically searching for their wallets and the bidding war begins - that is certainly not what happens. There are times when it's great and I love talking to people, there are times when people gush on about their Aunt who paints or how they paint and what they would do differently if they could get ahold of my brushes but my favorite is the kids, the best critics in the world! Once in a while someone comes by makes a brief comment then mostly just watches me and during the awkward silence I start blabbering about how it's really just a field sketch blah blah blah and inside my head I'm saying "what are you doing....shut up and paint."
During the Master Class I made work so stunningly bad that clearly I was possessed by an evil art demon who took away all my skill. At the end of the day looking at the paintings was an out of body experience as in who did that crap. My classmates, of course, were making awesome work which made it all the worse but Stuart was most kind and offered some really helpful comments. In fact, unless he reads this blog post he may never know how helpful. I came back from the Master Class determined to take plein air head on and have begun to see some real success, my favorite so far is posted above. It is only 6 x 8 inches and absolutely embodies the direction I want my work to go in. Exploring the entire process of painting outside has been fun...I've been trying different size canvases, mediums and exploring the city in a new way as I look for inspiration, finding the grittier parts of the city far more interesting than the well-manicured parks and pretty places. Of course one major aspect of all this fun is buying art supplies! I've got more plein air easels now than I care to disclose. My purpose is to streamline the gear as I don't have a car and have never liked lugging a ton of stuff around plus I want to streamline the work also. Meaning - get everything "said" loosely without a ton of detail, this seems to finally be happening so many months after I painted the worst things ever put on paper and I can still hear Stuart's great advice whispering in my thoughts. The other breakthrough for me regards scale. There is a saying I love but don't know who originally said this "If you can't make it good, make it big, if you can't make it big, make it red." I have always been freaked out by small painting but am finding it helps keep me way from endless detail and more focused on my ultimate goal of keeping things loose. It's all one big challenge and that's what I love the best. My larger work has begun to show the benefits of being outside and certainly my overall painting mood has improved greatly. There is a correlation, at least for me, about being stuck in the studio and being stuck in my work.