Archive for the 'En Plein Air' Category

A satisfying momentum . . .

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

I’ve been out on location, painting in papers — to build a new series of collage landscapes that I shall talk more about soon!

 

 

PAACK kicks off 2022 season!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

I really enjoyed PAACK’s chilly kickoff outing at the home of Mrs. Penn. As everyone began to focus on her exploding flower beds, I turned my attention in the other direction (for some odd reason). I couldn’t deny an interest in her staging nook near a teal fence (in the same way I was captivated by the back of Tillie’s garage last year). I’m completing the collage I started that day, and it will be a challenge to finish it for our summer show within the 50:50 limitation. I wouldn’t mind interpreting the gardening table, but I’ll need to omit that element to pull this off. I’d rather “move” the nearby bird feeder into my composition for a splash of complementary color, and also to find some way, within the remaining time, to “paint” the hay bales with paper ingredients.

Do I have to count the minutes I spend staring at my reference photo?
 
 
 

My 50:50 time constraint will necessitate simplification,
but inserting the colorful bird feeder is a given!

Tenth Chapter: Painting from nature with paper

Saturday, February 19th, 2022

“Follow the ways of natural creation, the becoming, the functioning of forms, then perhaps starting from nature you will achieve formations of your own, and one day you may even become like nature yourself and start creating.”
— Paul Klee
 

As I pushed toward the hanging date for Change of Seen last month, I pulled out an unfinished work. In 2020 it had been my hope to complete it as part of the Paint By Nature entry — an interpretation of an urban oak tree. Everything was done except for the tree itself, which I’d wanted to paste together in a burst of spontaneity. The “start” went into cold storage when I ran out of time for two submissions. Fast forward to January 2022. Now I had the ideal scenario. My tight deadline would not allow me to indulge any slowdown or second guess. Positive, unanticipated things often happen when I occasionally challenge myself to work under a severe constraint. The hesitant, rational mind is sidelined in favor of an intuitive response that is rooted in everything one has ever created. This can be the case with music, writing, or nearly any artistic format, but the phenomenon especially lends itself to painting.

Interestingly, I’ve always preferred watercolors to other paint mediums because of its unpredictability and the “happy accidents” that occur. I admire oils greatly, but they hold no attraction for me as I approach my 70s. I hadn’t expected to discover that “painting in papers” could captivate me so and knit a reverence for nature into my art. One of the primary appeals of collage is total flexibility. It’s almost impossible to make a blunder, if one stays “in the zone” without letting the intellect gain an upper hand. When others use words such as exacting or meticulous to describe what I do, it usually throws me, because I consider my approach as more instinctive. And yet, there is no denying the presence of “artisanship.” With any task at hand, craft is essential. It was drilled into me with rigor after I chose the path of applied design. (That the young are asked to dedicate themselves to a particular discipline and to ignore countless alternatives is a weird fact of life. Many of us spend decades unraveling it.) So, a certain precision is fused into my method, even when I’m racing the clock. One man’s chaos is another man’s perfectionism.

I’ve lived my adult life trying to spin creative gold in a studio of one sort or another. A supremacy of the natural world in my youth had been set aside as part of an itinerary toward the graphic arts profession. Reflecting on a long journey that leads to the ever-rolling “now,” I recognize that nature was always calling. It influenced my leaving big cities for a smaller community. It provided a firm foundation for my diet and a health-oriented lifestyle. It was an unfailing source for well-being when conditions seemed out of balance. Even so, an unsatisfied need remained elusive until I finally took paper and paste outdoors, where the potential for inspiration was out of arm’s reach. That I could respond with collage, and find it so rewarding, is something I hadn’t foreseen.

If you want to start with the first chapter, you can find that story here. It’s been almost five years of direct observation, and I’m itching to begin a new season of working en plein air. The broader point I’d like to make is how the experience also has invigorated the way I approach representational collage in the studio. It feels like it’s all been funneled into an evolving intuition. Working outside has transformed how I make visual decisions even when using photographic reference under pressure, as I did with Grand Chinkapin. After quickly preparing piles of printed scrap that seemed appropriate for tree foliage, I was able to explode those ingredients into place with a minimum of conscious thought — not unlike I try to do every time I take my collage kit on location. “Painting from nature with paper” has become a more integrated practice, inside or outside. Change of Seen shares this adventure with others.

 

Grand Chinkapin
collage with combined mediums by J A Dixon
0% / 100% — site to studio
11 x 7.75 inches + shadow-box frame
available for purchase

Watch my new artist bio by Fine Art Photographics!

Thursday, February 3rd, 2022

   

 

   

Immense thanks to Brett Henson, John Hockensmith, and Kate Savage for bringing this video to fruition! For anyone who wants to discover a bit more about my plein-air approach to making collage landscapes.

Cave Spring | 2019-2021

Friday, October 29th, 2021

“The most important thing
a painter can do is find
a good place to sit.”
— J.E.H. MacDonald
 

I started this miniature on location in 2019, deep into a hollow that reveals a natural site which offered the only large amount of “refrigeration” available to Kentucky pioneers in the region. My vision for a final look required more indoor time than could ever meet a qualification for en plein air. Paper can be a stern schoolmaster in the studio at times, and I’ve been known to get prickly under his tutelage, but Mother Nature smiles when I “return home.”
 
 
 

(above, left) A collage ‘start’ in the woods taking shape on my clipboard.

(above, right) The completed location work fell short of a finished landscape.

 
 

Cave Spring
collage miniature by J A Dixon
started on location / finished indoors
7.25 x 7.5 inches
available to collectors

Still Life with Peony Tulips

Monday, October 11th, 2021

“We think of the things we own and use as defining us in some way, but that can only be true if we first describe the things. Describing is a remarkable human act. It connects our inner and outer experience: as we observe and record the material world, we respond and reflect. We enter the realm where the material world meets the imagination. That’s the fertile ground of art.”
– Sheldon Tapley
 

I created this artwork for The Object Seen: Contemporary Still Life, current exhibition at Art Center of the Bluegrass in Danville. The juror was Sheldon Tapley, masterful painter, draftsman, and Stodghill Professor of Art at Centre College. I received a 2nd-place ribbon and cash prize. The honor came as a surprise, since I don’t consider myself a practitioner or student of still life as an art form. I have, however, looked deeply at artwork made by Sheldon and those who are. The arms-length quality of modern still life has compelled my close scrutiny for many years. Given that influence, I brought to the genre what I’ve discovered by “painting with paper” from direct observation (the long sweep of art history hovering somewhere outside my conscious awareness, with its rich tradition of artists tackling visual cornacopias of objects and edible fare). I decided to interpret a tabletop group of objects from raw material, rather than assemble a conventional collage composition from found images.

Please view a video clip of the juror’s remarks about my artwork.

The peony tulip blossoms were created en plein air in a local flower garden. The small “still life within a still life” was commenced and partially finished from a setup of actual objects. I relied on photo reference for the rest. Ingredients include colored paper (printed and unprinted), wallpaper, ruined book parts, tissue, reclaimed tea bags, string, and a dried leaf, plus minimal use of walnut juice, burnt coffee, tinted paste, and marker-ink edging. Adhesives include wheat paste, acrylic matte medium, and white glue.

 

Still Life with Peony Tulips
collage on salvaged canvas
18 x 23.75 inches

•  Second Place Prize

Ninth Chapter: Taking in a last view from her ridge . . .

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

“I always have to watch out for falling into copying what I see accurately, but somehow losing the poetry of expressively applied paint in the process. Accuracy with expressiveness is the key! Remembering this saying from David Leffel… ‘The beauty of the painting always comes first; accuracy always a dismal last.’”
— Bill Fletcher
 

As I prepare for my first solo exhibition of collage landscapes, I reflect on an exceptional season of working outside with the PAACK and how much I appreciate everybody who helped kick off 2021 with a return to Kelley Ridge last April, especially my “big sis.” I have six marvelous siblings, but only my sister Joan arrived before me. She is my oldest friend, confidante, and role model. Joan inherited a wild place and a half-built dwelling through one of the worst tragedies that a woman can experience, but — with faith and perseverance — she endured an unimaginable grief and transformed the shell of a house into a home. It’s a remarkable abode. The previous year I’d created a collage portrait of it when Joan hosted the first Art Out on her ridge. When I learned that she planned to put the farmstead on the market sometime in 2021, I knew I had to turn my attention outward from “Cardinal Haven” and challenge myself to capture one of its spectacular views with torn paper.
 
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I have fond memories of that event, because I met the affable Roger Snell that day, and we chose a similar viewscape on which to focus. Snell was “freshly retired” as one of the architects of the Kentucky Proud initiative for state economic development, and he was clearly thrilled to be entering his new life as a full time painter.

After a decent start, I worked through the afternoon and came away with a piece that I thought was close to having been finished on location. “Just a few finishing touches to go,” I told myself, but the more I looked at it in the studio, the more I wanted to continue adding contrasting layers for more depth and complexity. Doing that without sacrificing an impression of intuitive choices was not an easy process. I had to stay “in the zone.” By the time I was satisfied, it had became one of those studio-invested pieces that will never be classified as a plein-air artwork. So be it.

I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface with this particular approach to collage landscape. The distinction between direct observation, photographic influence, and pure imagination is becoming blurred. The outside/indoor time ratio is often taking a backseat to my achieving a certain end, with a desirable balance of improvisational spontaneity and pictorial authenticity leading the way.

 

From Her Ridge
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 9 inches
private collection

Eighth Chapter: Annual PAACK show opens . . .

Friday, August 27th, 2021

En Plein Air
an exhibition of recent
work by the Plein Air
Artists of Central Kentucky

It’s been an exceptional season for making art outdoors, and our local Art Center of the Bluegrass is currently presenting many of the resulting creations. I have six collage miniatures on display as part of the show. Enjoy the exhibit in-person or browse the virtual gallery until 9/11.

One of the highlights of the spring was our gathering at the backyard of Lee and David Simpson, with its quiet explosion of white and pink dogwood trees. They were certainly calling attention to themselves here and all over Danville. What a perfect day to be outside with the PAACK and “painting with paper,” thanks to my mobile collage kit. After some initial work, I gradually became convinced the scene was taking shape. As location coordinator for the day, I’d gotten off to an awkward start. I eventually came away from the pleasurable day with a solid interim stage, but as I began to finish the trees in the studio, it was clear that the piece needed more than details to improve it. When I decided that the foreground was too deep, I impetuously peeled off the base and moved it up an inch or so — after all, this is collage. That one modification helped everything about the look. The rest of the process became obvious. If I reinforced the sun-activated colors and spent a bit more time with the fence area on the right side, I could declare it finished, as long as I stayed within an overall time allocation that was legitimately en plein air. I was pleased to achieve a 70%/30% solution.

Whenever I gather under the sky with traditional landscape painters, their impressive work challenges me to “do my thing” with paper. With each outing, it’s feeling more like I’m painting, too! This was true in May, when we spread out to interpret the country home site of Paula and Ken Scott. A particular view of their wrap-around porch and surrounding garden captured my eye. I wanted to combine some hard-edge cutting with my evolving “brushstroke” technique. As is often the case, I pushed the finishing touches back in the studio to the 50/50 limit, matching my location time with more detailed refinements indoors. I’m still trying to solve how to bring something closer to a level of interesting density while still outside. Perhaps I’ll find that, by necessity, a totally site-based collage needs to be simpler in expression and more decisive in composition. A milestone in June and the subsequent Paint the Town experience would drive home the point, and also emphasize the importance of having a supply of “prepared papers” on hand to boost speed and expand my available vocabulary of effects.

I like to work outside because I like to be outside. When I formerly thought of myself as an amateur triathlete, I’d cross-train right through the hottest days of the summer. It doesn’t bother me to extend an Art Out into the late afternoon. Sometimes the morning shade has long since abandoned me. If I’m well into the groove, I can barely notice. Before I get totally off the subject here, I should state that I actually rely on direct sunlight to promote the drying of my collage surface, since I’m usually working wet-on-wet. A good example of this was the day PAACK gathered in the nearby Forkland community. I don’t fault others for finding a shady spot to paint. I set up not far away in the open sun.

In the decades since this Ohioan adopted Central Kentucky as my permanent home, I’ve developed an affection for the distinct topography and knobby woodlands of our area. Sure, the famous horse farms and limestone palisades are always handy, but I’ll never get enough of the unique contours of a “gumdrop horizon.” The Forkland community, which straddles three adjacent counties, was a destination that fit my attachment to “The Knobs”. The result was On the North Rolling Fork, one of my favorite landscape miniatures of the year.

 

Dogwood Day
collage miniature by J A Dixon
70% / 30% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

Country Porch
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.75 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

On the North Rolling Fork
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

Tillie’s unpainted facade

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

“What happens if we like a piece of art or hate a piece of art? Nothing. The art is still the same; it hasn’t changed. If we can realize that our judgments are not the truth, but a way to keep from telling the truth, then we begin the process of discovering what our truth is and putting that on the page.”
— Fonda Clark Haight
 

I started this miniature in a friend’s yard three weeks ago and cut myself off in the studio yesterday when the indoor work equaled the time expended on location. I wanted to keep the ratio to 50%/50%, a standard limitation we use for our annual En Plein Air exhibition. I’m fond of this piece, even though it will always look unfinished to me. I could’ve continued to refine it with more texture and details, but I had to keep in mind that it was more about the process than an end result. I learned something that day at Tillie’s about responding with paper to what I observed before me, in preparation for the “Paint the Town” time crunch. There was too much character in that old garage to fully capture anyway. Our fellow PAACK member has left the rear of that particular structure unpainted and speckled with antique tools — all for the benefit of local artists. Not a big mystery for anyone who knows Tillie!

 

Weathered Backside
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.75 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

Paint the town. (With paper!)

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
— Mario Andretti
 

One week ago, I spent a windy Saturday in frantic competition with the clock, and managed to get an outdoor collage artwork framed and delivered for Lexington’s annual Paint the Town plein air event. At the opening reception that same evening, I was stunned to get a prompt sale and 2nd-place prize. It was one of the most exhilarating twelve hours I’ve experienced in quite a while.

Oh, the dubious lengths some of us will go to chase artistic intensity — even the temporary madness of extreme deadline pressure — all in the pursuit of rapt spontaneity. Heaven help me!

It doesn’t seem so long ago when I first took my collage obsession out of doors, and this kind of open challenge was a goal too absurd to contemplate. I had scouted the location and spent a couple days in preparation. By the time I’d registered a blank canvas, raced to my site and set up, one of the precious six hours had evaporated. I began to battle the breeze (nothing new there). Nor were the other 40 artists involved my foes. It was clear that the only towering opponent I faced was a daunting imperative to speed up my process. I’ve never pasted paper so fast in my life!

The judge said this about my piece: “I was very interested in the way this artist managed to create such an evocative landscape using collaged paper — and on a windy day! Places and buildings often hold so many memories and meanings, and the use of text on the siding of the buildings — with the words appearing in reverse, so they become texture and tone — adds another level of meaning.”

It’s gratifying, and profoundly reinforcing, to have a knowledgeable evaluator find significance in aspects that have evolved gradually to become a natural part of my plein air method. I appreciate her remarks, the organizing effort of all those with Arts Connect, the camaraderie of the participating artists, the buyers (Scott and Paul), the indispensable support of my dearest partner — and you, reader, for visiting here and for reading all of this!

Onward to the next challenge!

 

Off Upper
plein air collage on canvas by J A Dixon
12 x 12 inches

•  Second Place Prize / S O L D

A June breakthrough

Monday, June 21st, 2021

“You know when there is spontaneous creativity when there is no resistance, when there is no anticipation, when there is no regret, when you’re totally present, and you’re experiencing what is called flow, because you know, deep inside you, that your only intention, ultimately, is the progressive expansion of happiness for yourself and for everyone else.”
— Depak Chopra

Yes, I’m happy, because I met an elusive goal that’s bugged me since my first experience with creating collage en plein air. With unfeigned satisfaction, I finished something entirely on location. This piece will probably mean more to me as a milestone than it might to anyone else. Now I feel better prepared to confront this Saturday’s “Paint the Town” landscape challenge. Unlike last summer’s more relaxed version, this event will be the real deal!

 

Day in June
collage miniature by J A Dixon
100% / 0% — site to studio
7.25 x 7.5 inches
available to collectors