Autumn on the Creek
8.5h x 11"w framed
8.5h x 11"w framed
11h x 8.5"w framed
When it comes to my art, I am a late bloomer. The path has been a long and crooked one. I was raised in St. Louis, where I took every art course offered by my high school. Then I went to University of Missouri - Columbia with a declared major in art and hopes of a related career.
Alas, my path swayed, and I had various occupations, eventually becoming a Wildlife Biologist. I loved the freedom of being outdoors, getting paid mostly to watch birds. It was a dream job, and my camera went with me wherever I went. I became a nature girl and a believer in our responsibility to take care of our Mother Earth.
It was my love of nature and my environmentalist leanings that influenced me to attend my first plein air painting competition in 2007. These events, some juried and some open, draw some of the best plein air artists in the world to compete for coveted awards and recognition. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I cried every day for three days, out of sheer frustration.
The practice of painting en plein air, a French term meaning in the open air, became popular with the invention of paint tubes and French easels – paint boxes with telescoping legs and storage compartments for paints and brushes. These boxes (still used today by many artists) and paint tubes allowed 19th-century artists to move their practice from their studios into the great outdoors.
When I was young, I was attracted mostly to the works of the Impressionists and the Hudson River School painters and to this day they are among my most important influences. They embraced plein air painting as it gained popularity. When I heard Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine speak at the annual Door County plein air event, he said the present-day plein air movement is the largest movement in the history of art. When he said that, I looked around at my fellow artists in awe and I had chills. Wow, we are all making art history!
Now I spend a good deal of time traveling the country, painting outdoors. Plein air is not for sissies. I face, on any given day, wind, rain, heat, cold and even snow and sleet, insects, poison ivy, sunburn, spectators (some kind and some not so much), traffic, pastel-eating horses, unfriendly dogs; did I mention insects? I have AAA auto club on speed dial. There are unique challenges, not the least of which are the three P’s of plein air painting: “Where’re ya gonna paint?” “Where’re ya gonna park?”” “Where’re ya gonna pee?” I love it! It satisfies my need to stay connected to nature and invokes a bit of an ache in my competitive bone (but in a good way), which, until I began going to plein air events, I did not know I had! You must paint fast, not overthink your subject matter, forget about detail, capture the fleeting light before it changes and edit, edit, edit! The challenges nearly defeated me in the beginning, but the ache kept me going. I am proud and humbled by what I have learned from these experiences and from the (mostly) friendly competition with my fellow plein air competitors. My work has improved faster and more furiously than it ever could have in the studio. I consider myself, first and foremost, a plein air painter and, having spent many years as a field biologist, I have a leg up on dealing with all the challenges. I have no problem with peeing behind a bush if the nearest public restroom is 20 minutes away! I’ve become very resourceful about making sure I eat and hydrate properly. I’ve converted my Toyota Sienna into a rolling studio that could double as a place to sleep if absolutely necessary.
So how did I get to this stage in my art journey?
When I was 47, I made the scary decision to quit my job to take care of my mother-in-law, Bertha, who had Alzheimer’s dementia, in our home. I had some time on my hands and I began thinking about art again.
My father, who was a gifted artist, passed away in 1993 and I inherited all of his art supplies. Although our relationship was strained at best, I do remember feeling close to him when I sat by his side, watching him paint a mural on the wall of our living room. I asked him endless questions and got insightful answers that stuck in my mind. He taught me to draw and how to use a grid. Those were my first art lessons. I think I was about nine. He always told me you don’t have to have inborn talent to become a good artist. He said I could learn everything I needed to know by reading, practicing, and watching master artists paint whenever I could. Back then, I thought that was crazy talk.
When I quit my job to care for my mother-in-law, my life reached a real turning point. With some time on my hands, and freedom to do what I wanted in my spare time, I finally took my Dad’s advice to heart and started reading a great deal about art history and technique. In 1997, I pulled out the supplies he left me from their hiding place in the basement and began drawing and experimenting. I took some drawing classes and a watercolor class. The Internet was a rich resource for information and free lessons. I realize those years observing nature and learning composition through the camera lens proved to be excellent training for this artist’s eye! Slowly, my drawing skills improved, and I began having “eureka” moments of seeing like an artist.
Maybe Dad was right?
In addition to my Dad, I owe a lot to Bertha. The eight years I spent taking care of her were a huge blessing for me in many ways, not the least of which was my reconnection to my artistic side. My self-study paid off. When Bertha passed away, my husband, Norm, encouraged me not to get a job, but to continue working on my painting skills. I owe a lot to Norm, too! I took my first real art workshop in 2009 with Maggie Price, the founder of Pastel Journalmagazine, and that was when my right brain really lit up. I began identifying as an artist, a pastel artist. I was off and running!
Robert Genn said, "True mastery involves a kind of driven skill-building". This quote guides my art practice. Honestly, I don’t want to achieve mastery in my art because then I would have to stop pursuing it – and that would be, well - boring! I have no plans to stop in my driven skill-building, so I continue to take workshops with master artists whenever I can, and I try to give back now by teaching others – I always learn something when I do. Now I know my Dad was not crazy. He was absolutely right. You don’t need inborn talent. You only need desire. This is why I am now so passionate about teaching others how to paint!
You can find more info about me and see more of my art on my website www.lorrainemcfarlandart.com/ but I hope you will come to the Gallery at Redlands to see my work in person.