Plein Air Acrylic in Rowayton: A First Attempt

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Street in Rowayton, CT

Plein air watercolor has always appealed to me -- it's the minimalism of the kit required, I suppose, and the spontaneity of the medium. However, I've always admired plein air work in other media -- oil, acrylic and pastel alike.

So when I saw that Pacific Northwest-based artist Annie Howell Adams was teaching a daylong workshop titled Fauving up the Landscape here at Rowayton Arts Center, I signed up and persuaded a friend to do the same. Figured it was a good opportunity to try a new medium and learn from an expert.

The week of the workshop, things got very busy at work. I hadn't had time to shop for supplies, so I hastily put together a bag the night before, noting with despair that I was missing some key materials -- to wit, decent canvases and a tube of alizarin crimson.

Since I wanted to meet my friend before the start of class, M. and I left the house early. On the way we saw a sign for an estate sale, so we decided on a quick detour.

"Looking for anything in particular?" asked the lady at the cashier's desk in the foyer of the estate-sale house.

"Nah, just stopping by on the way to a painting class at Rowayton Arts Center down the road," I said.

The woman brightened. "Oh, you should definitely check out the art supplies downstairs -- my aunt used to take classes there, too!"

She wasn't kidding. Her late aunt had certainly taken her hobby seriously. In 10 minutes I amassed a boxload of prime art supplies - including, by coincidence, the very items I needed for the class. New canvases? Hog-bristle brushes in various sizes? Check! Alizarin crimson acrylic paint? Check! What were the odds? Armed with my finds, I headed off to the workshop feeling very lucky indeed.

Annie, the instructor, was lovely -- so down-to-earth and such a fount of information. She shared her palette layout and did a demo outdoors showing how to mix colors. She often sketches on her canvas with black gesso before glazing with medium and adding layers of oil on top. Here's an illustration of this technique on her blog.

I love that she's unabashedly passionate about creating art in all kinds of media; so many artists these days confine themselves to a certain type of work and even limit their range of subject matter, all to keep galleries happy and establish a signature style. Yawn.

So - how did I make out? I found that my watercolor setup worked just as well for acrylic: I filled an AquaTote collapsible fabric water bucket and set it on my folding stool. On the portable easel was the butcher tray, which held paper towels, a few paint tubes and a rectangle of palette paper secured with mini spring clamps.

The sun and breeze that day meant that paint dried very fast. Next time I'll bring a spray mister to keep my paint wet. I mostly used a limited palette of a warm and a cool version of each primary, plus white, with no browns or black.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, especially as I'd never painted outdoors with acrylics before. And I'd like to think that the beloved aunt, whose materials I used for the painting, would have been happy to see her paints, canvases and brushes live on.

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