My first plein air painting festival was in downtown LA last year. The fact that downtown is so familiar, and the organizers were so welcoming, and that it was the inaugural of that particular festival made it a nice easy introduction to the sport. I put one painting in the show just to have it in the show, but didn’t try to sell it. Having that event under my belt, and having recently attended the Mendocino Open Paint Out (just to see what it was about, not as a registered artist), helped prepare me to participate in Plein Air at the Lost Coast last week.

The event was held in Shelter Cove, a tiny seaside town in southern Humboldt County. The closest “civilization” was a strange, unruly little 101 rest stop called Garberville. That’s where I stayed, trading a 40 minute winding mountainous drive for a luxury hotel at motel 6 prices. Garberville was full to the brim with homeless hippie kids and uncultured rednecks, who somehow coexist in an addled haze of various forms of intoxication. I am never the type to be intimidated by a strange town. I’ll go for walks with Otter and go for runs at night and do pretty much everything I usually do, with a little bit of added wandering. And I will paint anywhere, anytime. But Garberville gave me the willies, and I stuck pretty close to my hotel when I returned to town each night. On one of my many trips over the winding mountain road to and from Shelter Cove I gave a ride to some rough hippie hitchhikers and when I mentioned I was staying in Garberville one of them exclaimed “OH MAN isn’t that a GREAT town?” So I guess it’s all in your perspective.

Shelter Cove is a strange place too. It has a Edward Hopper vibe to it, if Hopper was stuck in 1985, with lots of lonely, bland structures and seemingly fewer people than all those structures would call for. The homes were strange and it felt like they all stuck out like sore thumbs. It was impossible to find a view of the coast without structures in it, such as the unimpeded views you might find in Big Sur or San Simeon. And I’m sure this is unusual, but the weather was oddly sunny and still for the entire festival. Coupled with it being hard to get to, it’s not a place I would choose to return to and paint, without the incentive of the festival. Hopefully nobody takes offense to that, because to each artist their own scene and this one just doesn’t sing my siren song the way San Simeon does.

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On one of the festival days I took advantage of an amazing opportunity given to 10 of the participating artists, to paint at a local monastery nestled in the redwoods on the Mendocino/Humboldt County line. It was an incredible place, in both architecture and scenery. Art and design had been considered in every detail, right down to the way our lunch was laid out for us by the nuns who run the monastery. It was all very spare and minimalist, and integrated with its surroundings, an aesthetic breath of fresh air. My painting spot down by the river was so peaceful that I was joined for a time by a grazing deer. And also a few squirrels who kept hurling acorns at me. Little messages from God perhaps.

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I start many plein air paintings, but finish few. Having a looming deadline for the final show though was fantastic motivation to get a few done. On the night before the deadline I stayed up until 4:30am finishing four that I had started. When I tried to turn them in the next day I learned we could only hang three so I took out the weakest link, and then went back to my hotel for a nap before the show.

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When I pulled up to the community clubhouse that evening it was so packed one could hardly move around in the space. I heard later that the attendance was around 220! I found where my art was hanging, and then took a spin around the space to see all the other art. By the time I made it back to my paintings, I had my first red dot. My first sale ever to someone other than my friends or family. Another toodle around the space, some snacks, some chatting, and I returned to find my second red dot. At the end of the evening I made arrangements with a new friend to bring my remaining piece over to Garberville the next day, to save me a couple trips over the mountain. She texted me in the morning to tell me I had sold it. Three pieces hung. Three pieces sold. Granted, I sold them at my friend rates (more on pricing in a coming post), but I’m just happy that they’re living with people who obviously love them and want them. Selling one was a milestone. Selling all three gave me some much needed validation and motivation to continue.

The second annual Los Angeles Plein Air Festival starts tomorrow, and this time I’m approaching it with a whole new perspective on what I’m capable of.

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