Artist Dawn Chandler's evolving paint palette during the 5-day Santa Fe Plein AIr Fiesta 2018

My changing palette over the course of the five days..

 

I work well under pressure. I like deadlines and due dates. At least that’s what I’ve always thought.
I remember a few years ago getting ready for a solo show of my abstract/textual landscapes and, just a couple of weeks before the show opening, I realized with some horror that I was going to need twice as many paintings as I’d figured to fill the space. Never have I worked with so much focus and creative abandon as I did those next few days. Unplugged from all my devices, I locked myself away in my studio and painted 12 – 14 hours per day for a week solid as creativity overtook me. Quite to my amazement, everything fell into place, as the groove of flow swept in and over me. Rather than feel tired, I felt completely energized. Rarely has painting been so supremely joyful and effortless for so many days in a row!

That, um, didn’t happen last week.

Artist Dawn Chandler's plein air painting set up during the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta 2018

Painting out at the Galisteo Basin.

No, quite the opposite. I was freaking out on day one of the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta, a competitive painting event involving 50 artists.

We’d gathered in Santa Fe to paint for five days. The goal was to have two completed and framed plein air paintings ready to exhibit at Santa Fe’s well-respected Sorrel Sky Gallery at the end of the week.

While my new painting peers all seemed to be experienced in these competitive “paint-outs,” this was my first one. Really, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself in to.

Each day there were designated paint-out locations, though you didn’t have to paint there if you didn’t want to. Rather, you could paint anywhere within about a 100-mile radius of Santa Fe.

Morning of the first day I decided to avoid surprises and stick with the familiar. Still full from the huge kick-off welcome dinner the night before, I headed out to the Galisteo Basin at dawn to do my first painting. After a brisk hike with The Pup, I did a very quick sketch, loosely noted the values per what I’d learned at PACE18, then set to work. The painting came together without too many headaches, though I wondered if I should have paid more attention to the values. Regardless, I was thrilled to have my first painting under my belt. Whew! Just 14 more to go!

Now to pack up the car with my paints, food for four days, and The Pup and head up to Dixon to my friend Miya’s place. I figured I’d camp out there for a while as Dixon would put me fairly close to several of the paint-out locations in the Rio Grande Gorge, Abiquiu & Espanola. And Dixon itself doesn’t lack for beautiful and interesting subject matter for paintings!

DIxon, New Mexico one early morning in late April.

The hills surrounding Dixon, New Mexico.

Come late afternoon my easel was set up in front of Miya’s, as I raced furiously to capture storm clouds over the ridge line and afternoon sunlight angling in. Yet  I seemed to forget anything that I had known about painting. I was anything but focused. Negative speak pounded through my head. I felt overwhelmed.
I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO A SKETCH AND A VALUE STUDY!!! The light is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much going on between foreground and middle ground and background trying to get the shape of this and the color of that and the shadow here and the tree over there and and and
UGH!!
THIS SUCKS!! IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER!! I DON’T LIKE THIS! I DON’T LIKE PAINTING UNDER PRESSURE!! HOW AM I EVER GOING TO GET TWO DECENT PAINTINGS DONE BY NEXT WEEK?!

Finally I just STOPPED. I’d lost the light. The more I worked on the painting, the more I was ruining it.

I did not sleep well that night.

The next morning I attempted the same view, but this time — obviously — with morning light.

Same thing.

Once again I was anything but focused as distracting negative speak pounded through my head. Once again I felt overwhelmed, and confused about how to paint.
I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO A SKETCH AND A VALUE STUDY!!! The light is changing so rapidly, and there’s so much going on between foreground and middle ground and background trying to get the shape of this and the color of that and the shadow here and the tree over there and and and
UGH!!
THIS SUCKS!! IT’S NOT COMING TOGETHER!! I DON’T LIKE THIS! I DON’T LIKE PAINTING UNDER PRESSURE!! HOW AM I EVER GOING TO GET TWO DECENT PAINTINGS DONE BY NEXT WEEK?!

And once again I just STOPPED. Once again I’d lost the light before completing the painting.

I felt drained and deflated.

This was new to me, this intense feeling of stress and anxiety when painting.
Sure, my paintings almost always go through a stage of looking like a mess, and often there’s negative speak going on in my head and I wonder if it’s ever going to come together. But always there’s a point where the painting DOES start coming together and those negative voices get shut out, such that by the end of the painting session I’m feeling pretty satisfied with the result.

But this was performance anxiety. It was uncomfortable. It was sour. I knew it was all in my head — it was all ego — but knowing that really didn’t help to diminish the discomfort that sat heavily with me.

Three paintings so far. One was okay, two were terrible.

I folded up my paint box. I definitely would not be heading out to the community “paint-out” locations. Last thing I needed was people potentially looking over my shoulder.

The view outside of Miya Pottery in Dixon, NM.

The view outside my little apartment at Miya Pottery in Dixon, NM.

 

A few hours later..

Mid-afternoon.

Deep breath.

This time I would slow down and apply everything I observed and learned two weeks earlier at PACE.
This time I would do a preliminary sketch and focus on the value structures, on composition.
This time I would take my time and do it right.

Notan sketch by artist Dawn Chandler of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico

 

Dawn Chandler's laying in the values on a plein in painting of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico

And

of course

by taking my time

it all

came

together.

Dawn Chandler's laying in the color on a plein in painting of an adobe pottery shed in Dixon, New Mexico

Same with my next painting.

And the next.

Dawn Chandler's laying in the values on a scene in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler's starting to add color in a plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler adding yet more color to a plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

Dawn Chandler completed plein air painting of view in Dixon, New Mexico

And what a surprise that I felt calm while painting these. I felt joy when painting these. I felt unplagued by the pernicious chattering ego, and instead felt completely present with my muse and the view before me.

The lesson, of course, is an ages old one, summed up best in the annoyingly wise question

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

Though in my case I was lucky, for I did have time to do some things over — to revisit my earlier “disasters” and make adjustments. So with both the 2nd & 3rd paintings I stood at the same spot the next day and, shutting out the demons, focused more, made corrections, and ultimately turned them around into surprisingly decent paintings.

At the end of five days, I had six respectable paintings — a far cry from the ridiculously ambitious 15 I had originally set as my goal. But I soon learned that six was about as many as most of my fellow artists had completed. And I learned, too, that I was not alone in being haunted by performance anxiety demons.

Grid of Dawn Chandler's six completed and framed paintings from the Santa Fe Plein Air Fiesta 2018

The culminating exhibition at Sorrel Sky was nothing short of a celebration. Imagine seeing over 100 fresh paintings capturing early May in New Mexico! The turnout was huge, and the energy electric. Master artist Stephen Day judiciously handed out awards. Though none were handed to me (nor were none anticipated!), my blue ribbon was without a doubt the overall experience. What a journey it was!

I’d be remiss if I failed to give a shout-out to the Plein Air Painters of New Mexico [PAPNM] who did an outstanding job planning and managing this event. It seemed to me to be incredibly well organized — really, they thought of everything. And from what I gather from other participating artists, few other regional paint-outs are as on the ball and well-directed as PAPNM.

Will I participate in a competitive paint-out again?

Maybe not.

As much as I enjoy plein air painting, the idea of art being “competitive” doesn’t really appeal to me.
I don’t like feeling pressured to paint — except for the kind of pressure that comes from my sweet pup when, after an hour or so she lets me know: You’ve been working on that one long enough; time for you to put your paints away and for us to hike some more!

But then again… maybe I will…

Never say never, as they say…

😉

——————

And YES! All of my Plein Air Fiesta paintings for sale! Click here to explore them all.
painting with my fearless protector

My favorite pic of my Mascot, my Fearless & Brave Protector ~ worth sharing again!


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Very Artfully Yours ~

Dawn