Up to the Challenge


It has been an first-class week here in the Finger Lakes, as Canandaigua hosted the annual Finger Lakes Plein Air Competition and Festival. Dozens of juried-in artists descended on Ontario County, New York to paint outdoors for several days. Several have competed here previously. Dedicated volunteers based at Canandaigua’s Pat Rini Rohrer Gallery did countless hours of preparations for the festival and staffed the associated events, bringing the whole project to life.

I had the pleasure of being on a team tasked with photographing them as they worked, in varied locations and weather conditions. Some of them probably weren’t surprised to see me pop up wherever they were, my camera in hand. We found them enjoying the views of Canandaigua Lake, our city streets, Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens, local wineries, and beyond into the countryside. Then their work was judged, exhibited and many sold to an appreciative audience. Their varied techniques and uses of oil, pastel, watercolor and more amazed me. Their paths to follow their artistic passions have been varied. They are as nice a group of people as they are talented as artists.

Award-winning artist and teacher Ken DeWaard came from Maine to judge the event. Stephen Doherty competed and also gave an excellent painting demonstration. He has been editor of magazines such as PleinAir and American Artist. Well deserved top honors went to Chuck Marshall, Yong Hong Zhong and Jim Laurino, with several others earning honorable mentions for their beautiful art. Our local artists Cindy Harris and Judy Soprano did wonderful work. Locals even had a chance to compete in a a quick paint-out event.

My personal experience painting plein air has had its ups and downs. Seeing the artists works reminded me that I need to dust off my own equipment and get out there. I need to practice and remind myself of some of the instruction I’ve received in the past from exceptional artists. How to see, for instance, is more than just looking at a tree and deciding it has green leaves. Changing light and weather conditions require a thought process and making decisions before the brush even touches a canvas. Paying attention requires giving something of oneself to what is around you and deciding what is important and what is not, for which you may receive something in return for your efforts. Even being brave enough to wipe the paint off the canvas completely and start over may be necessary, and that’s okay, too. I’ve also been fortunate to learn a few life lessons from the people I met during the competition. Sometimes the lesson is just to start and then keep going.

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