Looking back on the festival this year I’ve been thinking about some of the lessons learned, or thoughts had along the way. Other artists I know say they would never do a festival like this because of the pressure to perform. For me, it works the other way. Without some kind of pressure, a deadline, a goal, I lack the fire to create a structure that will bring me to the work. So the pressure of having only Wednesday night through Friday night to create something decent – at least two paintings to turn in Saturday morning – drives me to paint paint paint paint paint.
The more I paint the more likely I am to have those two good pieces. If I’m lucky I’ll get more than two pieces I’m happy with out of the whole experience, but if its only two that’s still two more than I might have had otherwise.
This year I painted one piece Wednesday evening, four or five Thursday, and five or six Friday. I was pretty sure I had my best paintings early Friday morning and Tom delivered them to the judging tent for me while I continued working away. I figured if I ended up getting something better than those two I could drive myself in and replace the ones I’d given.
This year I chose to paint close to home and to paint the same location from various times of day: 7am, 8am, 11am, 1pm, 4pm, 7pm. Over the course of three days I revisited the terrace at Nepenthe, looking a the oak tree that silhouettes the mountains and coastline, and observing and painting the changing light, mood, and atmosphere.
At one point I changed my orientation, too, incorporating part of the terrace, umbrellas, and chairs into my foreground. By then I’d been painting for about five or six hours in the same spot and my paint was beginning to turn into tar. I normally don’t paint in the middle of the day – and if I do I am under shade of some sort – but this time it was full sun with no shade at all.
I don’t paint out of doors mid-day as a rule, but here I was doing just that, so my rule of thumb is to tilt my canvas so that it is getting as much light as my palette. That way the colors are consistent. Usually when I take plein air work back inside after working out of doors for hours I notice that I have been working too dark. Eventually I adjust (this seems to happen subconsciously) but the first few paintings I really make notes to myself about alterations in value.
By the end of the last day I was ready for a change of location. I went for a “walkabout” looking at different vistas, structures, trees, and patterns of light and dark before settling on cluster of prickly pear plants in the garden below Nepenthe. But as I loaded my paints, easel, and bag of primed canvases into the car I found myself leaving the property and heading north to Andrew Molera State Park, a location I’ve painted many times and had painted the evening before.
It was 6pm by then and I knew from my previous painting excursion that the light would be perfect but feared there might be a fierce wind, as there had been the day before. So I started by painting the old barn near the horse pasture down by the river, a sheltered location which allowed me just enough room to set up for painting. Unfortunately the shady side of the structure was not available for me to view – there was some kind of convention of campers in the place I usually paint – so I ended up with a light-bleached barn that ended up being pretty flat and disappointing.
But I still had one more hour of daylight so I drove further north to the pullout in front of the old cabin under the Eucalyptus trees, and the lighting was golden, and the wind was low. I set up my easel, tucked in a toned canvas, and scraped the last shreds of white off my palette lid to lighten my paint – - – just enough to create the bright evening sky behind the eucyalyptus trees, and the the snaking path between the fields.
It was, in the end, my favorite painting of all – and it sold the next day to a couple from Nebraska who I had met the day before at Nepenthe. I enjoyed it while I had it – enjoyed its old California tonality and simplicity, bravura brushstrokes, and speed of accomplishment. I’m glad I snapped a picture of it with my iPhone, my only record, but most of all I’m glad I hung in there for three days of fierce painting to get to the point where I could create a record in less than an hour of one of my favorite spots on the coast.
Original Oil Painting by Erin Lee Gafill Painted during the 19th Annual Carmel Art Festival, May 19, 2012. Oil on Canvas – 16″ x 20″ – $1375
sleeping through sunrise waking to hot sun shining through the windows, a hungry cat, and a delivery truck driver at the door needing me to move the car . . . ah, bliss -
the last few days have been a marathon of painting, painting before the sun is up, painting in pullouts in fierce wind, canvases flying into fields, painting dawn and dusk and the hot midday light in between.
Checking my spam filter this morning is almost soothing – mindless, and funny. “Dear Beloved,” writes one amorous correspondent. “The price of joy,” another . the beginnings of poetry, but false promises all.
The pay-off of painting so intensely is there can be no falseness in it – by the time you have worn yourself out there is only truth left to tell. My favorite painting was painted at the last hour of the last day of the competition, the sun was going down, and the wind was kicking into high gear. My oils had been baking all day in hot sun – I had to scrape the palette lid to get any white at all, and my brushes were murky to say the least. But I hung in there, and when I was done, I was really done.
Home to a cold bourbon and a hot bath, and I slept like a baby.
Original Oil Painting by Erin Lee Gafill Painted for the Carmel Art Festival 20″ x 24″ – Oil on Canvas – $1975