While Mother Nature might be the prettiest model around, she has a reputation for being difficult.
Whenever plein air painters try to capture her beauty, she refuses to stand still, moving fog, light and water. Yet, despite this unpredictability, the artists keep coming back for her majestic mountains, stunning sunsets and dramatic waves.
This year 50 artists will participate in the Plein Air Festival, which benefits the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (formerly the San Luis Obispo Art Center). Beginning Monday, the weeklong event will include lectures, movies, demonstrations and, of course, lots of plein air painting.
We asked three of the local artists participating — all from San Luis Obispo — to bring in a piece of plein air work and discuss it with us.
Never miss a local story.
Soon after reaching adulthood, Veldkamp traveled through Europe visiting art museums. Later she returned — with husband and five children — and showed her work at three shows in Germany.
A portrait and figure teacher at the SLO Museum of Art, she brought in her oil painting, “Hollister Peak.”
What’s tougher, the portraits or the landscapes?
The Morros are like portraits. And each Morro to me has a different character and has facial structure or a figure. And it has bones and features that identify it individually.
If you drive by Hollister, it has a lot of detail — every little rock has thousands of cracks. How do you know what details to add and what not to add?
When I was learning to paint, my art teacher kept telling us, “Squint and use a bigger brush.” And so I do that. And now I don’t have to squint — I just take my glasses off, and it’s blurry. And there’s a big advantage to that. Simplify and then you don’t get hung up on detail too long.
What was the first thing you painted on this?
I do a huge general shape and just start slowly working in.
Do you take a photo and then take it home?
This time I did take a photo because after a while the wind came up and it acted like a sale on a ship. And I have a big easel, and it fell in the dirt. So I did take a photograph and worked a little bit from home, but not very much because I don’t want to spoil the moment.
You teach at the SLO Art Museum. What’s the one big tip you give?
Be aware of the whole entire space. Don’t put a little figure on a great big canvas.
What tools did you use for this?
I have a brush I’ve used since I was 14. You can’t buy them that big any more. It’s not a house painting brush — it’s for oil painters. But I’ve never seen one since I was a kid, so I’ve kept it and I keep it clean. I draw it in with a smaller brush, then I go right to the big brush.
Williams has only lived on the Central Coast a couple of years, but he’s already made an impact in the art community. Last year, the Washington, D.C.-area native won both the Artists’ and People’s Choice awards at the Plein Air Festival.
A painter in the American Impressionist tradition, he considers Montaña de Oro an office, having painted about 100 scenes there.
He talked to us about his oil, “Ceilia’s Reach.”
What does the wind do to the waves? What’s the challenge for you?
I find water very difficult, the ocean in particular. On the West Coast it’s even more difficult because the conditions are changing so fast. Every 15 or 20 minutes, the water goes from purple to blue to green, then it gets kind of more yellowy and then it starts looking pink. So once a painting is drawn on and once the process of applying paint has begun, you basically just have to set that idea and just stick with it even if you come up with some other idea halfway through.
What’s your technique for waves?
The thick paint is called impasto — that’s the Italian word and I don’t know any other word for it. It’s just densely applied paint. And I try to reserve that for the light areas, so you do see it in the waves. It’s a little thicker and a little bit lighter where the waves are hitting the rocks. I kind of want you to look there so I make it a little brighter specifically to pull the eye in that direction. And you have that variety, which keeps the viewer interested.
Did you consciously paint a scene without people in it?
There were people out on the point. I didn’t really see people as necessarily being important to this thing. If it were a beach scene, it would have to have people. I want people to be able to put themselves in there, and sometimes having other people around is stressful. Sometimes the art buyer likes to not have people in their painting.
What was the last thing you painted on this?
I had to come back and keep reworking this foreground area. I wanted to make it busier than what was going on in the back. I thought that was really important — that there’s a lot of action in the foreground, and it becomes more quiet as you go back to the reach.
A native of Wheaton, Il, Hawthorne has lived on the Central Coast since 1979 and currently co-owns The Gallery at the Network in San Luis Obispo.
She has illustrated several books written by her daughters on Latin-American village life and is active with the San Luis Outdoor Painter’s Enterprise.
Her pastel, “Down Turri Road,” captures a scene from the winding thoroughfare that connects South Bay Boulevard to Los Osos Valley Road.
You occasionally do roads. What do you like about roads?
I think I like the fact that they guide you through the picture. They bring you in and they get you going. So there’s some involvement of the viewer in the picture.
Do you think people picture themselves driving down this road?
Yeah. My husband thought I should put a bicyclist in that, which probably would have been a good idea.
Do you prefer golden hills or green hills?
I think the golden hills in June and July are beautiful. But I love when they’re like the Irish Hills, too. As a painter, it’s the contrast, I guess — of the oak trees with the golden hills.
You do a really good job layering hills and mountains. What’s the key to that?
In the foreground you need to put more intense colors, and as you move back, the colors get softer and more gray. And I think that’s one of the things I love about painting here. I’m always looking for the layers, which we didn’t have in Illinois.
What was the first thing you did?
I usually do a real simple drawing to get the composition in place.
There are a lot of winding stretches on this road. What made you do this particular stretch?
I think the road leads you back into the painting. And, like I said, I love to work with layers of hills.
How often do plein air painters cheat — put something in that isn’t there and leave out something that’s tough to do?
Oh, just about always. That’s the advantage of being a painter rather than being a photographer — you can move mountains.
You have very nice handwriting. How’d you get that signature?
Actually, I sat down one day and decided I had to spiff up my signature. And I got a few little twirls that I thought would add to it.